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For the AFC, South Africa’s giant titanium project is another step in Africa’s beneficiation journey

PATRICK NELLE, BIRD STORY AGENCY

THE Africa Finance Corporation (AFC) is to partner with Nyanza Light Metals (Nyanza) in the development of the latter’s US$550 million titanium dioxide plant in South Africa, according to the AFC, which published the news on its website on August 22.

Nyanza plans to establish a chemicals complex which will include an 80 000 ton-per-annum titanium dioxide (TiO2) pigment plant, as well as the infrastructure and the utilities that the necessary to service the project. The plant construction works will require US$350 million, while the related infrastructure will have an estimated cost of US$200 million. The AFC is a multi-lateral financial institution, created by African states to finance infrastructure projects across Africa.

South Africa is the world’s second-largest producer of titanium ore but the country still imports almost all its value-added titanium products. The situation should be radically redressed once the minerals beneficiation project is completed. Beneficiation is the transformation of a mineral, or a combination of minerals, into a higher-value product, which can either be consumed locally or exported.

“The project will be the first of its kind in South Africa and the African continent producing titanium dioxide pigment for international and South African manufacturers of products including, paints, plastics, pharmaceuticals and building materials”, according to the press release.

The Nyanza project is so large that it was identified as a priority project and conferred “National Project Status” with high economic developmental impact by the South African government, the release stated further.

Titanium dioxide is used as a whitening, brightening and opacifying agent, while titanium itself has a wide range of industrial uses including prosthetics, cutting utensils, surgical equipment, mobile phones and sports equipment.

According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), in 2020 the top 5 global exporters of titanium ore included three African countries: South Africa (at US$569 million, the world’s largest exporter), Mozambique (US$183 million, 4th), and Sierra Leone (US$158 million, 5th).

Most of these exports are raw mineral ore. South Africa imports up to 35,000 tons of titanium dioxide each year, while Africa as a whole import over 150,000 tons, the Nyanga project will be Africa’s first titanium beneficiation plant and the only one on the continent to produce titanium dioxide.

The statement said the AFC is making an initial US$3 million investment which will go towards the completion of the project development activities that will lead it to its financial close in H1 2023. The AFC is also a co-mandated Lead Arranger alongside the African Export-Import Bank (“Afreximbank”) which has co-funded the project.

Established in 2007 to channel private sector-led infrastructure investment across Africa, the AFC’s role expands to financial and technical advisory, project structuring, project development and the provision of risk capital. The institution’s backing is a major step for the Nyanza project, as well as for beneficiation in Africa, according to Nyanza’s Chief Executive Officer, quoted in the statement.

“Nyanza’s pioneering journey into mineral beneficiation is a trail-blazing initiative that will hopefully be a model for value addition in minerals processing across the continent.” Nyanza’s CEO, Donovan Chimhandamba, was quoted as saying.

“AFC is proud to be part of this landmark deal for South Africa and Africa as it is closely aligned with our investment strategy which focuses on the in-country value-accretive beneficiation of Africa’s natural resources. South Africa being one of the world’s largest producers of titanium ore makes this project a key example of moving Africa higher up the value-added manufacturing supply chain whilst creating local jobs and driving economic development on the continent”, AFC’s Senior Director and Head of Project Development and Technical Solutions, Mr Amadou Wadda, said regarding the institution’s involvement.

The chemical complex will be developed at the Richard’s Bay Industrial Development Zone in KwaZulu-Natal Province. The first phase of the project was completed in March when a Product Testing and Development Center (“PTDC”) with a capacity of 700 tons per annum (tpa) of titanium dioxide pigment was commissioned.

The PTDC’s TiO 2 production will be offered to paint and pigment market players to test and co-develop different paint formulations based on Nyanza’s pigment quality, while the 80,000 tpa main plant is being constructed.

“Financial close for the US$550m main pigment plant is expected to be achieved in the first half of 2023 with production from the main plant to ramp up from early 2025. Nyanza’s current focus is on appointing the right EPC contractor to construct the main plant.” Chimhandamba added.