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Treated water adds value to Prieska’s development

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Treated water adds value to Prieska’s development  

Earlier this year ASX listed Orion Minerals announced that trails are underway to treat underground water pumped from the historic shaft at Orion’s Prieska Copper-Zinc Mine (PCZM), close to the mining town of Copperton in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa. 

By Leon Louw owner and editor of WhyAfrica 

When WhyAfrica visited the Prieska mine in late July 2022 as part of our annual Road Trip, plans were already afoot to start pumping water from the old historic shaft.

The shaft infrastructure at Prieska is still in top condition, despite being submerged since the mid-1990’s. Being able to pump and use the underground water will add further value to one of the most exciting development projects in Southern Africa.

According to Orion’s Managing Director and CEO, Errol Smart, the company has started a series of field trials for the treatment of mine water using a proprietary electrolytic technology to produce saleable products. “The process has the potential to extract valuable products such as calcium and magnesium for agri-nutrient use,” says Smart.

Smart adds that other products with potential for by-product sales in the chemicals industry will also be extracted by the process.

According to Walter Shamu, Chief Operating Officer at Orion Minerals, the water treatment trials are being undertaken in collaboration with Free Radical Process Design (FRPD), a South Africa-based technology company.

“FRPD has developed an innovative and proprietary process and equipment for the continuous extraction of metals and other valuable minerals from water using electrowinning via a rotating cathode (Electrosoftner),” Shamu explains.

The Electrosoftner has the potential to extract iron hydroxide, hydrogen, calcium, magnesium, and base metals such as nickel, zinc, and copper from contaminated mine waters. The ability to harvest the agri-nutrients at the Prieska Copper-Zinc Project has the potential to offer important host-community development opportunities.

The Prieska mine is located in a region where renewable energy is abundant and where irrigation agriculture is a core industry.

“This will advance Orion’s vision of establishing a ‘green’ footprint for the Prieska Project with broad stakeholder benefits as part of its objective to have a world-class ESG framework to support its operations,” says Shamu.

Treated mine water for irrigation (Treated water adds value to Prieska’s development) 

The extensive underground workings at Prieska hold approximately nine million cubic metres of water, which has accumulated since the mine was closed by Anglovaal in 1991.

While the quality of the mine water is relatively benign, with pHs ranging between 6.6 to 7.1 (neutral pH is 7.4), and total dissolved solids measured in the shaft water range between 6,000 and 11,000 mg/l, some water treatment is required if the water is to be considered for off-site discharge and subsequent agricultural or potable applications.

The dewatering set-up consists of pump sets and reticulation that will extract mine water from underground workings at a pumping rate that will build up from 120m3/hr to 500m3/hr.

Once on the surface, some of the water will be treated by reverse osmosis (RO) while the balance will be treated by electrolysis. Some brine water will be retained in evaporation dams.

The treated waters will be used for irrigation projects, which will benefit local host communities.

Dewatering is planned to occur over a three-and-a-half-year period, during which time mining is planned to commence in those parts of the Prieska deposit above the water level so that copper and zinc concentrate production can commence within less than three years, as scheduled in the original project development plan (BFS-20 Plan).

A sold mining foundation (Treated water adds value to Prieska’s development) 

With most of the infrastructure intact, development at Orion Minerals’ Prieska copper and zinc project is followed by many South Africans in the Northern Cape. Hopes are high that the project will come into fruition soon and kickstart the Northern Cape region.

Venturing down Prieska’s decline is like travelling back in time. The ore body was mined by Anglovaal between 1971 to 1991, and the infrastructure was left intact.

Anglovaal initially drilled 27 holes from 1968 to 71 and proved up a resource that they guessed would deliver in the region of 47 million tonnes of ore. When Anglovaal capped all the mine’s shafts in 1991, they had moved almost 45.68 million tonnes of ore to surface, using a vertical shaft 1 024m deep, and a single, reasonably steep portal decline access to level 120 (100m underground). From 120 level (which runs the entire length of the ore body), there are a series of four declines (one every 400m) that provides access to the bottom level of the mine.

Treated water adds value to Prieska’s development 

WhyAfrica reports about, and publishes newsletters, magazines and research reports about natural resources and the primary sectors of African economies, and the infrastructure, equipment and engineering methods needed to extract and utilise these resources in an efficient, responsible, sustainable, ethic and environmentally friendly way, so that it will benefit the people of Africa.

Furthermore, WhyAfrica promotes Africa as an investment and travel destination, analyses the continent’s business environment and investment opportunities, and reports on how the political economies of African countries affect their development.         

WhyAfrica provides you with business intelligence that matters. Africa is our business, and we want it to be yours too. To subscribe to WhyAfrica’s free newsletter or digital magazine, and for more news on Africa, visit the website at www.whyafrica.co.za or send a direct message. WhyAfrica launched its first ever digital magazine in November 2021.

The company will undertake its annual road trip through South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, the DRC, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya in 2023. If you are interested in sponsorship or advertising opportunities, please contact me at leon@whyafrica.co.za. We have a wide range of different packages and combo deals to give your company the greatest exposure to a rapidly growing, African readership.  

The 2022 Southern Africa Road trip issue of WhyAfrica’s magazine is now available in print. The magazine was distributed in South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana during WhyAfrica’s 2022 Southern Africa Overland Road Trip, the company’s new and innovative platform. WhyAfrica has expanded its product range and now offers its readers, followers, advertisers, subscribers and partners the following:

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Treated water adds value to Prieska’s development 


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AgricultureEnvironmental Management & Climate ChangeEnergyESGInfrastructureMiningPolitical EconomyTourism and ConservationWater Management