ITRI’s 12th International Tin Conference in Cape Town on 23 – 25 April and a linked Conflict Minerals Seminar on 26 April attracted a total of 265 delegates. One of the key themes of both meetings was the potential for Africa to develop its mineral resources and expand its share of the world market, thereby contributing to economic development and poverty reduction. Other themes included the changing but still vital influence of China on tin and other metals markets, the growing importance of recycling and the increasing geographical diversification of tin mine supply.
A keynote paper presented by Malaysia Smelting Corporation’s Dato’ Seri Dr Mohd Ajib Anuar described the steps need to transform small-scale mining activities “from a source of conflict into a catalyst for poverty reduction, economic growth and sustainable development.” Some of the most important points were the establishment of laws and regulations to support inward investment and the formalization and legalization of artisanal production. He noted that African tin-in-concentrate production fell to 11,000 tonnes in 2011 because of the reluctance of buyers to accept African tin.
A paper by Graham Smith of the South African Department of Trade and Industry suggested that cassiterite production in DR Congo and Rwanda could rise to over 33,000 tonnes in 2015, and that annual revenue to the two countries from the “three Ts” minerals (tin, tantalum, tungsten) could grow to US$780 million. Two corporate presentations covered African investment projects, with Mining Mineral Resources planning both “assisted artisanal” and industrial-scale mining in Katanga and the construction of a 300 tpm capacity smelter in Lubumbashi and Kasbah Resources making rapid progress in establishing a 5,500 – 6,500 tpy mine in Morocco. Kasbah‘s Achmmach project is now one of the largest undeveloped hard rock resources in the world.
CRU’s Peter Ghilchik forecast that percentage consumption growth rates in China for all metals would be lower in the next five years, although in volume terms there would be further considerable increases in requirements. He contrasted CRU’s forecasts of 5 – 9% per year growth for the other LME metals with ITRI’s projection of 4% a year for tin in China. However Cui Lin of ITRI China noted that forecast annual usage of over 179,000 tonnes in 2015 would require growing imports of raw materials. While China’s tin smelting and refining capacity is already over 200,000 tpy, capacity utilization rates are quite low.
A paper by Yunnan Tin Group Chairman Mr Yi Lei attributed the fall in YTC’s refined tin production in 2011 to severe competition in the domestic tin concentrate market and also summarized the results of a study by the company of secondary tin production in China. Chinese secondary tin production was estimated at 37,000 tpy, with most of the production focused in a small number of specialized recycling bases in Guangdong, Yunnan, Zheijiang and Hunan provinces. Inge Hofkens of Metallo Chimique, the largest secondary tin producer outside China, said that after the downturn of 2008-2009, secondary tin production was now again growing quickly. The company is investing Eur 100 million in expanding its capacity to treat scrap containing copper, tin, lead and nickel, with tin production increasing from 10,000 to 12,000 tpy.
John Sykes of Greenfields Research focussed on tin production costs and offered a view on the” tin mine of the future”. He predicted a gradual replacement of alluvial production by hard-rock mining projects, many in developed countries where investment risks were lower. Close to US$2 billion of investment in new mines is required by 2015, although returns on capital could in many cases be improved by significant revenues from by-products and co-products such as copper, zinc, tungsten and tantalum. This overview was followed by presentations covering projects in many parts of the world, including South America, Australia, Europe and far eastern Russia. A diversification of tin supply sources away from the current “big two” of China and Indonesia will be a key feature of the industry’s development.