MZI flies against the wind

TALK about bucking a trend. At a time when mining was at one of its lowest ebbs, a mineral sands miner working ground other mineral sands miners walked from had its official opening. Supply Side by Australia’s Mining Monthly editor Noel Dyson
MZI flies against the wind MZI flies against the wind MZI flies against the wind MZI flies against the wind MZI flies against the wind

Noel Dyson

Actually, timing in these things is everything and it turns out MZI Resources picked its time pretty well.

With the mining industry in the doldrums, getting equipment and contractors suddenly became easier and cheaper – and so the Keysbrook zircon and leucoxene project about 70km south of Perth was completed early and under budget.

Leucoxene is an alternative source for titanium dioxide, which is used in pigments for the paint and paper industry and is also used to produce titanium metal.

Mining started at the $75 million Keysbrook project last year and the company has already made several shipments of zircon and one of its 70% leucoxene L70 product. It is getting ready for its first shipment of its L88, an 88% leucoxene product.

Mining the leucoxene is fairly simple. There is no overburden to clear and the material is all free-dig so there is no need for any blasting.

The only thing MZI does is to remove a few centimetres of top soil. That top soil is kept aside.

For mining, MZI uses a Komatsu 1250 excavator and three 40t Komatsu 400 articulated dump trucks. There are also a couple of Komatsu dozers and a 45t Komatsu excavator. Indeed, the company also has a maintenance agreement with Komatsu.

The trucks drop the material into a hopper linked to a sizer and trommel. The ore is turned into a slurry and piped to the wet concentrator plant.

At the plant, banks of spirals do the heavy lifting in terms of stripping the heavy minerals.

Spirals use centrifugal force to move the heavy minerals out of the stream. At the bottom of each spiral is a separator sending the heavy minerals to one side and the waste material – which is basically just sand and water – to the tailings circuit.

These tailings are pumped back to the void from whence they came.

It actually takes one hour from the time the ore is dug to when the tails are returned.

One MZI staffer described it as more of a rehabilitation operation than a mining one.

The retained top soil is added to the replaced “tailings” and then contoured to replicate what had been there before. Within two or three years farmers can run livestock on the rehabilitated ground.

The heavy mineral concentrate is taken to a mineral separation plant at a facility owned by Doral in Picton.

MZI managing director Trevor Matthews said MZI had bought the separation equipment but Doral was providing the staff and management expertise.

That separation is done for MZI on a toll treatment-like basis.

While the Keysbrook operation has not yet reached nameplate capacity of 110,000 tonnes per annum of heavy mineral concentrate, Matthews is already talking about doubling the output.

“One short-term target is getting to nameplate,” Matthews said.

“I see opportunities to increase the throughput through small capital investments.

“We’re looking at potentially doubling the size of the project. We can still have a 15-20 year mine life if we can convert all of our resources and where we see additional resources.”

On the first goal, Matthews expects the operation to come close to nameplate during this quarter.

One of the problems facing MZI is the lumpy nature of the company’s income. That L70 shipment, while lucrative, took a couple of months to put together.

“We have to make sure we have enough working capital to get through that [time between shipments],” Matthews said.

“We have to have access to cash to cover half of our operating costs.”

MZI shares were at A31c in intra-day trade.

Most read Viewpoint