Proposed upgrade of Tsumeb Smelter likely to spell job cuts
Dundee Precious Metals Tsumeb’s future as a substantial employer is at risk due to capital intensive investments into more efficient means of processing copper concentrate.
This is according to a notice published this week that Dundee will soon start an Environmental Impact Assessment by SLR Environmental Consulting which forms part of an Amendment Process for the proposed Upgrading and Optimisation of the Tsumeb Smelter.
SLR said the proposed upgrade is one of the later phases of an improved expansion facility that has already required substantial capital investment.
“With additional custom concentrates available worldwide and areas for operational improvements identified, Dundee is now proposing to expand their current operations to increase their concentrate processing capacity from approximately 240,000 to 370,000 tons per annum ” SLR noted stating that the proposed expansion would be contained within the existing facility.
It is envisaged that, after the expansion, Dundee will operate on improved value addition and bring other benefits to the Oshikoto Region where socio-economic needs are high. Furthermore, during the construction phase, some opportunities will be created for local contractors. The smelter currently employs between 600 and 700 people in Tsumeb, with many other service providers directly dependent on Dundee’s operations.
SLR stated that recovering the cost of this investment would be significantly more challenging should the proposed project not receive the environmental impact assessment clearance to optimise existing components and processes within the facility.
“Providing this highly specialised service to global clients and upgrading the smelter capacity to 370,000 tonnes per year would ensure that the facility can operate at higher efficiency levels with related economic benefits,” the consulting firm stated.
Currently, the smelter receives copper concentrate from Peru, Bulgaria, Chile, Armenia for processing. The smelter was constructed in the early 1960s to process concentrate from the Tsumeb copper mine and is one of only five commercial-scale smelters in Africa capable of processing concentrates with a high arsenic content.
Following the purchase of the smelter complex in 2010, Dundee Precious Metals has undertaken a series of upgrades and improvement projects such as the construction of a hazardous waste disposal site, an additional second oxygen plant, improvement of the off-gas handling systems and decommissioning of the arsenic plant at the end of February 2017.
The Tsumeb smelter now comprises one primary smelting furnace and the refurbished Ausmelt furnace where blister copper is produced from the copper concentrate and delivered to refineries for final processing.