The Steelpoortdrift (SPD) vanadium project is an open-pit mining development by Vanadium Resources (formerly Tando Resources) in the Limpopo province of South Africa. It is one of the biggest and highest-grade vanadium deposits in the world.

Vanadium Resources received mining authorisation for the project from the Department of Mineral Resources, South Africa, in July 2018 and completed a pre-feasibility study in June 2021. A definitive feasibility study (DFS) is scheduled for completion in July 2022, with the start of construction on the project expected in the same year.

The SPD project is anticipated to start producing vanadium concentrates in the fourth quarter of 2023, while the start of vanadium pentoxide (V2O5) flake production is expected in the first quarter of 2024.

While the project’s total mine life is estimated to be 25 years, it is expected to produce up to 720 thousand tonnes (Kt) of vanadium concentrate and 12.5Kt of V2O5 flake a year at a mill feed rate of 1.6 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa) in the initial five years of operation.

Further, the ore throughput is planned to be doubled to 3.2Mtpa by adding a second processing circuit in year six, which will increase the concentrate and flake outputs to 1.1Mtpa and 18.5Ktpa, respectively.

Steelpoortdrift location, geology and mineralisation

The Steelpoortdrift vanadium project is located within the Sekhukhune district, approximately 30km south-west of the Steelpoort town, in the Limpopo province of South Africa.

Vanadium mineralisation at Steelpoortdrift is hosted within four titaniferous magnetite-rich layers in the upper section of the Bushveld Igneous Complex (BIC). The average thickness of the mineralised layers ranges from 5m to 12m.

Vanadium reserves at Steelpoortdrift

The Steelpoortdrift vanadium project was estimated to hold 73.85Mt of ore reserves, including 31.17Mt proven and 42.68Mt probable reserves, grading 0.75% V2O5 as of July 2021.

The measured, indicated and inferred resources of the project stood at 662Mt grading 0.77% V2O5.

Mining and processing of ore from the SPD mine

Conventional open-pit mining method, involving drill, blast, load and haul operations, will be deployed for extracting ore from the SPD vanadium mine. The mining will be performed using 5m bench heights with up to four benches in a stack.

All high-grade ore will be directly hauled to the run-of-the-mine (ROM) pad near the processing plant, while the medium-grade ore will be stockpiled for future processing. The overburden waste from the mine will be sent to west rock dump sites, but will be subsequently used in backfilling the pit void.

The Steelpoortdrift vanadium concentrator plant will comprise three-stage crushing, milling, wet magnetic separation, dewatering, and re-grind magnetic separation facilities.

The concentrate produced at the plant will be further transported by road to an off-site salt-roast-and-leach (SRL) plant to produce V2O5 flakes.

Infrastructure facilities for the Steelpoortdrift vanadium project

The electricity required for the SPD vanadium project will be supplied from the national power transmission grid operated by Eskom, while diesel generators will be used for back-up power supply.

Other infrastructure facilities for the project will include access and haul roads, ROM pads, an ore stockpile area, a tailings storage facility, contractor camps, workshops, explosive storage facilities, and a water supply system.

Contractors involved in the South African vanadium mine development

Sound Mining, a mining consulting company based in Johannesburg, South Africa, was engaged to provide pit optimisation and mine design for the Steelpoortdrift vanadium project in May 2021.

United Mining Services (UMS) provided the design and costing of the concentrator plant, while Consulmet Metals provided the same for the SRL plant during the PFS of the project.

Nurizon Consulting Engineers provided the design of the tailings storage facility, while Red Kite Consulting was engaged in providing environmental compliance services.