ONE of China’s largest investments in Australia’s booming resources sector, CITIC Pacific Mining’s (CPM) Sino Iron project represents a new era in iron ore mining. Under development at Cape Preston, 100 kilometres southwest of Karratha in WA’s Pilbara iron ore hub, the project will be the largest magnetite mining and processing operation in the country. The project’s main resource is Joffre, part of the Brockman Iron Formation, which at CPM’s last estimate had a total mineral resource of 5.089 billion tonnes.
CPM originally purchased the rights to mine 2bt of iron ore from the area where the Sino Iron project lies, and has options to mine a further 4bt in the future. Once in operation, the project will mine about 140mtpa of ore and its processing plant will handle about 80mtpa of material, producing about 24mtpa of concentrate across the mine’s estimated 25-year life. The Sino Iron project is important project for both Australia and China as, once construction is completed and the project is operational, CPM will become the first Chinese-owned mining company to ship iron ore products from WA to
The project is also momentous in that it is the first major magnetite mining and processing project in Australia’s history, making it possible for steel producers to use local magnetite resources that had previously been considered too low in value.
A traditional argument against magnetite mining and processing was its energy-intensive nature, but a CPM spokesman said the company believed its processes, when weighed against the long-term benefits of the ore, were justified.
“Compared to hematite iron ore, magnetite requires significant energy-intensive downstream processing in Australia before it can be exported,” the spokesman said.
“However, magnetite’s improved efficiency in steelmaking overseas more than offsets these early emissions. “The result of magnetite concentrate’s high quality and high efficiency is an overall reduction in global emissions.”
The concentrate from the project will be a superior steelmaking product due to its high iron content of about 67 per cent and lower impurity levels than many traditional products: the magnetite will contain virtually no phosphorus or alumina.
Mining and processing The Sino Iron operation will mine from a main pit more than 5.5km long and 3km wide. Mined material will go through four in-pit crushers – the largest in-pit crushing installation in
Australia – before being transported to the concentrator. The crushed ore will then be transported to the project’s giant grinding mills, which are the largest to have ever been manufactured in the world. There will be six grinding mill lines, each using 44 megawatts of power and standing more than 17 metres high. The mills will produce a fine ore stream that will enter magnetic separators to become a concentrate. This concentrate will be thickened and stored before being pumped 25km to the port, where it will be filtered to reduce moisture. From there, the concentrate will be exported for use in steelmaking.
CPM reported that, in addition to the current construction work being undertaken for the Sino Iron project, it also planned to develop a magnetite pellet plant as part of the operation. The Sino Iron project represents a major investment in infrastructure for CPM: in addition to the mine and its processing plant, development will also include the construction of a 51-gigalitre desalination plant; a 450-megawatt,
combined-cycle, gas-fired power plant; and a new port facility. A CPM spokesman said that the company was continuing to achieve major construction milestones across the Sino Iron project’s development, including the recent firing of the first two gas turbineson the project’s power station. “The power station is being built with state-of-the-art technology, and will lower natural gas consumption and reduce carbon emissions by 40 per cent compared with other forms of power generation,” the spokesman said. “At the port, base infrastructure work has been completed. The conveyor for the first stacker and reclaimer has been assembled, and electrical installation of the second stacker is complete.” He said that in the mine pit, the first of the four in-pit crushers had been installed and the main drive motor
tested, with construction of crusher slots three and four nearing completion. “Once in place and commissioned, each of the four in-pit crushers will have the capacity to crush 4250 tonnes of magnetite ore per hour,” he said.
“Construction of the project’s grinding mills…is well under way, with the structure and mechanical installation of the first grinding mill nearing completion. “Individual components of the first production line are at various stages of being completed and tested, and we anticipate them to be ready for integrated commissioning by the end of 2011.” In line with earlier estimates, the spokesman said CPM continued to
anticipate first production and export of iron ore concentrate in the first half of 2012.
Community and environment The Sino Iron project will add an estimated $75 billion in export income to the Australian economy during the next 25 years, and directly contribute about $3.3 billion in royalties to the WA government. CPM has adopted a ‘buy Australian’ commitment to the project’s development, meaning that about 70 per cent of the goods and services required will be sourced within Australia during Sino Iron’s lifetime. According to a company representative, of the contracts issued by CPM in the past 12 months, more than 80 per cent were awarded to WA companies and more than 95 per cent
to Australian companies. The project’s significant investment in downstream processing will also ensure significant additional employment opportunities: creating about 4500 jobsduring construction and 800 permanent roles once it is in operation, with about 250 additional positions at a corporate level.
From the Sino Iron project’s inception, CPM has placed heavy significance on community involvement, deeming it a “critical element” of the project’s success. In line with this, the company is involved
with a number of local community initiatives specifically designed to support indigenous communities. “CPM engages with the local community in several important ways,” a company spokesman explained. “The company has a three-year partnership with the Clontarf Foundation, whose education-based program supports Aboriginal boys and young men in the Roebourne and Karratha communities. “CPM has also entered into a three-year partnership with micro-finance provider Many Rivers Microfinance as part of the company’s Aboriginal business development program.
“CPM also has a three-year partnership with KULCHA Multicultural Arts of WA to support the organisation’s programs, events and activities, and supports a range of local community partnerships and events including Karratha’s FeNaCING Festival, Roebourne Women’s Day and Pilbara Play Day.” In its development and construction of the Sino Iron project, CPM has adhered to strict environmental regulations set in place to minimise environmental impacts on its area of operations and the wider Cape Preston area. CPM reported that it was committed to sustainable mining practices that minimise impacts on the natural
environment, and has expressed plans to positively contribute to the Cape Preston environment before, during and beyond its operation of the Sino Iron mine and associated infrastructure.
“The proposed Dampier Archipelago Marine Park and Cape Preston Marine Management Area encompass the waters off Cape Preston [and] the Sino Iron project has prepared management plans to ensure that the conservation values associated with these areas are maintained,” the company reported. “Furthermore, [CPM] is investigating ways to extend the terrestrial portions within these conservation areas. “To minimise greenhouse impacts, we are building an efficient, low-emission, combined-cycle power station which has around 40 per cent less emissions than the alternatives. “We will also plant 150,000 trees each year for 10 years to assist in sequestering unavoidable carbon emissions.”
By Amy Mattes-Harris