The Sunday Mail
Senior Business Reporter
Zimbabwe is poised for remarkable increase in chromite exports beginning this year, on the back of anticipated strong growth in chromite ore and ferro-chrome production, experts in the industry have said.
Increased ferro-chrome output this year, projected to register 15 percent growth above 2018 production, is anticipated to result in 40 percent growth in chromite ore production compared to the same period last year.
Already, Zimbabwe has earned US$120 million from the export of chrome concentrates and lumps as well as high carbon ferro-chrome in the first four months of this year.
Zimbabwe Mining and Smelting Company (Zimasco) chief executive John Musekiwa told a recent mines conference that while Government’s thrust of value addition will decrease chrome ore exports, it will, however, drive ferro-chrome exports.
“Phenomenal growth of the Zimbabwe chrome industry is possible, but (ensuring) low-cost production is key; we have the resource; the market is there; (however), smelting is energy intensive and electricity constitutes the highest production cost component in Zimbabwe,” Mr Musekiwa said.
Currently, the highest level of chrome beneficiation in Zimbabwe is ferro-chrome production, but Government recently approved an investment by Chinese firm, Tsingshan Steel, which plans to invest over US$1 billion towards building a stainless steel production plant in the country.
Notably, as part of the roadmap of Tsingshan’s stainless steel production in Zimbabwe by 2026, Afrochine, a subsidiary of Tsingshan (the largest global stainless steel producer) will expand ferro-chrome production going forward.
“The increased ferro-chrome capacity on line (in Zimbabwe) will see increased chromite ore production in 2019 (year on year) of 40 percent compared to 2018 (assuming adequate electricity supply),” he said.
Zimbabwe is currently blighted by a crippling power shortage due to reduced water levels at Lake Kariba and frequent break down of old equipment at Hwange, Zimbabwe’s two major power plants, which has spawned rolling power cuts for domestic users.
“Future years will see chromite ore production increase in line with the growth of ferro-chrome production. Chromite ore exports in 2018 totalled 800 000 tonnes,” Mr Musekiwa said.
Zimbabwe’s ferro-chrome production, he noted, was set to grow significantly on the back of new commissioned capacity, which will see production jumping 15 percent to 419 000 tonnes from 365 000 tonnes last year.
“Resumption of operations at Zimbabwe Alloys on the back of refurbishments currently underway, coupled with expansion of production from Zimasco will see output ramping up in the coming years,” Mr Musekiwa said.
The anticipated growth of Zimbabwe’s chrome industry was also recently confirmed by Mines and Mining Development Minister Winston Chitando at the International Chromium Development Conference in Victoria Falls.
“While 2018 (ferro-chrome) production of around 350 000 tonnes was significant for the country, new capacity being commissioned and planned for commissioning within the year could see a 20 percent increase of ferro-chrome production capacity to 418 000 tonnes in 2019,” he said.
The minister said chrome ore production will need to increase in line with increasing consumption in carbon and stainless steel production, hence there is need for significant investment in developing new mining capacity.
Chromium has no substitute in the production of stainless steel, which is the backbone for global economic growth, hence its global acclaim as a strategic commodity.
Being host to an estimated 12 percent of the global chromite resources and production currently contributing less than 3 percent to global output, the Zimbabwean chrome ore industry has significant potential for growth going forward.
Zimbabwe currently has 14 ferro-chrome operations concentrated mainly in the Midlands Province with the two largest players, Zimasco and Afrochine, operating medium sized furnaces while the rest utilise small furnaces.
Zimbabwe holds the world’s second largest known chrome ore deposits, after South Africa. Global chrome ore resources are estimated in excess of 12 billion tonnes, according to Roskill Chromium Global industry Outlook 2018.
Chrome is one of the key minerals through which Government seeks to grow mineral exports from US$3,2 billion last year to US$12 billion from 2023 going forward, as the country gears up for upper middle income status by 2030.
Last year the mineral was one of the top six mineral commodities that contributed the bulk of Zimbabwe’s export earnings along with the usual top performers platinum and gold as well as diamonds, nickel and coal.
Government is currently working on a chrome development policy to drive growth of the industry, consistent with the yet to be exploited reserves.