CLIFFS NATURAL RESOURCES MINING IN CANADA
Stainless steel - a material most of us take for granted.
Because of this extraordinary metal, we have sophisticated medical instruments, buildings, refineries, and infrastructure.
But what gives stainless steel its impressive heat and corrosion-resistant properties, and glossy appearance? A unique mineral called chromite.
Chromite can only be added to the steelmaking process after it is combined with a fluxing agent and carbon reductant, to create an alloy known as ferrochrome.
Currently, most chromite products needed to supply worldwide stainless steel demand are produced in Kazakhstan, South Africa and India - countries with abundant chromite deposits.
China has significant ferrochrome furnace capacity, but lacks the quality chromite material to supply all its needs.
Because there are no economically viable chromite deposits, stainless steelmakers in North America must import most chromite products from South Africa.
But this makes transportation costly and leaves producers exposed to social and economic uncertainties.
Cliffs Natural Resources, an international mining and natural resources company, expects to change this geographic imbalance by producing an anticipated 600,000 tons of ferrochrome and 1 million tons of chromite concentrate, starting in 2015.
Cliffs controls three world-class chromite deposits in an area known as the “Ring of Fire,” in northern Ontario, Canada.
With geology similar to the mineral-rich Bushveld region in South Africa, this newly explored area is potentially home to many minerals, including platinum group metals, copper and nickel.
To date, Cliffs’ chromite deposits are the area’s first discovered tier 1 assets.
The deposits are extensive, thick and of high quality.
They also have the potential to support production in excess of 80 years.
The Company anticipates mining its Black Thor deposit first because of its ability to be mined via open pit.
Here is a simple comparison in size and thickness to deposits in two competing countries.
In South Africa, chromite seams are generally 1 to 2 meters thick with mainly requiring underground mines.
In Kazakhstan, deposits are open pit-able, but tend to be non-continuous.
Cliffs’ deposits measure a remarkable 20 to 100 meters in thickness. Moreover, the lower extent of the ore body has not been determined.
The deposit is generally located near surface, making initial open pit extraction easier and likely more cost-effective.
Cliffs expects to build a near-mine beneficiating plant to process the crude ore into concentrate.
With decades of experience in iron ore mining and beneficiating, Cliffs plans to process chromite ore using similar methods.
Here’s a quick look at the beneficiating process.
Crude ore is trucked from the pit for crushing and screening and then conveyed to the plant.
Once reduced in size, lump ore is separated from fines, using heavy media separation.
The fines are then sent through a series of cyclone and spiral separation equipment. Here, gravity helps separate chromite from waste material.
These chromite products can now be processed into ferrochrome or direct-shipped to other ferrochrome producers.
Transportation to move product to market could include an all-weather road or a railroad. Routes to the west or directly south are under review. Each option would connect up with existing rail transportation.
Using this network, chromite concentrate could be shipped west to Prince Rupert, British Columbia - and onto Asia to ferrochrome producers there.
To create ferrochrome, Cliffs expects to construct an enclosed electric arc furnace facility near a city or town with grid-power and established trucking and shipping routes.
A location near the Great Lakes could be ideal.
An enclosed arc furnace offers key advantages over other processing methods.
Electrical energy is used to reduce the metal in a controlled, measured and precise manner.
Ultimately, Cliffs anticipates producing 1 million tons of chromite concentrate and 600,000 tons of ferrochrome annually for Asian, North American, and European steel markets, positioning the company as a major international producer.
While feasibility is ongoing and regulatory approvals are required before development and mining begin, production is anticipated to start in 2015, and grow to be the third leg in Cliffs’ expanding portfolio of steelmaking raw materials.
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