The Northern Territory is richly endowed with manganese. Groote Eylandt’s world class deposit is the centre of manganese mining activity in Australia.
Every tonne of steel needs manganese and new manganese has to be added to each tonne of recycled steel. Demand from China is expected to increase as the rebuild of infrastructure constructed early in its investment boom yields mountains of scrap.
GEMCO is the largest and one of the lowest-cost manganese ore producers in the world, and the biggest producer of the steelmaking raw material. It accounts for more than 15% of the world’s high grade manganese ore production, exporting approximately 70% to global markets.
GEMCO commenced mining at Groote Eylandt in 1964, under BHP ownership, covering an area of approximately 8,500 hectares. As part of South32’s demerger from BHP Billiton, South32 (an independent global metals and mining company) acquired ownership of GEMCO. The GEMCO mine stands out as a prime example of a successful long term project in operation in the Northern Territory.
In 1972, the beneficiation plant was commissioned at a one million tonnes per annum (Mtpa) maximum capacity and a series of expansions has been undertaken since.
The most recent was completed in 2013 and increased GEMCO’s maximum capacity from 4.2 Mtpa to 4.8 Mtpa through the introduction of a dense media circuit by-pass facility. The expansion also addressed key infrastructure constraints by increasing road and port capacity to 5.9 Mtpa, creating 1.1 Mtpa of additional infrastructure capacity for future expansions.
A US$139 million Premium Concentrate Project was approved in August 2014 and is expected to be complete by the end of FY2016, ramping up to full production of 0.5 Mtpa in FY2017. A standalone processing facility near the existing concentrator will be built to produce a premium concentrate product for export sale, which will increase GEMCO’s capacity to 5.3 Mtpa. This expansion also involves an upgrade to port infrastructure to handle the blending of premium concentrate with existing ore fines products.
Creating the remarkable
The Northern Territory Government has worked alongside GEMCO throughout each of their expansions, to facilitate and streamline the government approvals process. A coordinated, whole of government assessment process has ensured that GEMCO has had access to the right people at the right time to resolve any potential issues efficiently.
The Northern Territory Government has approved all applications for expansion to date and is currently assessing GEMCO’s draft Environmental Impact Statement for their Eastern Leases Project, located approximately 2kms east of their existing mine.