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Magnetite confidence

Making our state’s magnetite the world’s choice for steelmaking.

South Australia’s magnetite producers and mine developers have set course to become leading global suppliers of quality magnetite products for steelmaking.

The launch in December of South Australia’s Magnetite Strategy by Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy Tom Koutsantonis at the South Australian Exploration and Mining Conference follows more than two years of detailed analysis and planning between industry, government and the South Australian community.

The Magnetite Strategy seeks to transform in-ground iron ore assets into quality magnetite products to cater for expected growth in global demand from high-quality steelmakers seeking to improve efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions.

Core sample of magnetite-rich siltstone.
Figure 1 Core sample of magnetite-rich siltstone from Magnetite Mines’ Mawson Iron Project – an example of South Australia’s characteristically soft magnetite that is cost-effective to crush. (Courtesy of Magnetite Mines; photo 416200)

The intrinsic mineralogical properties of South Australian magnetite ore compare favourably with competing products, consisting of relatively soft ore and/or large grain size that makes the ore economical to process and crush at first pass, and it also contains fewer impurities (Fig. 1).

To understand the payoff of these qualities, it is important to consider that magnetite ore requires extra processing before shipment than hematite or direct shipping ore (DSO), the form of iron ore that dominates world markets. Like DSO, magnetite ores undergo initial crushing and screening. But then magnetite undergoes additional processing to produce a concentrate or pellets which are suitable for blast furnaces and direct reduction steelmaking plants.

Concentrate produced from these additional steps transforms South Australian magnetite into a higher grade product consisting of greater than 65% iron that is low in alumina, silica, phosphorus and sulfur.

Further tipping the scales to magnetite is a tightening of environmental controls during steelmaking. Using magnetite concentrate in place of or in a blend with hematite has been shown to reduce emissions intensity, in some cases by as much as 30% in the overall steelmaking process.

Mineral developments are often about windows of opportunity – and market signals suggest the global steel industry has reached an inflexion point and is amenable to magnetite as a cost-effective high-grade alternative to DSO that meets tightening environmental controls.

Meeting demand

South Australian magnetite resources.
Figure 2 South Australian magnetite resources. Prospective areas include the Eyre Peninsula (South Gawler), Far North (North Gawler) and Braemar regions.

Endowed with more than 16.5 billion tonnes of magnetite ore (updated 2018), South Australia has the resources to meet the anticipated rising demand for magnetite as a preferred feedstock. Some 44% of Australia’s identified magnetite resource can be found in South Australia (Fig. 2).

More than 90% of South Australia’s iron ore is in the form of magnetite, located in several prospective areas of the state.

South Australia has a reputation as a reliable supplier of iron ore and is home to two magnetite operations: Simec Mining, part of the GFG Alliance, and active in the Middleback Range near the Port of Whyalla, and Cu-River Mining Australia in the Far North near Coober Pedy.

Iron Road’s Central Eyre Iron Project is poised to become Australia’s biggest magnetite mine having secured a mining lease in 2017. Several projects in the Braemar region are in the design and planning stage of development.

South Australia’s Magnetite Strategy seeks to secure $10 billion of combined investment by 2022 to more than double the number of operating mines, and increase South Australia’s magnetite production to 50 million tonnes a year by 2030.

The strategy will foster collaboration between miners, the mining supply chain, steelmakers, researchers, government and communities to develop the industry through new partnerships, innovation and new technologies.

Artist rendering of cape-size and roll-on roll-off ships at Iron Road’s proposed deepwater port at Cape Hardy.
Figure 3 Artist rendering of cape-size and roll-on roll-off ships at Iron Road’s proposed deepwater port at Cape Hardy for the Central Eyre Iron Project. (Courtesy of Iron Road; photo 416263)

The Magnetite Strategy also gives impetus to investment in key infrastructure. The South Australian Government has established the Central Eyre Iron Project Task Force to work with Iron Road to identify third-party opportunities from the proposed $4.5 billion investment in the open mine at Warramboo, linked by a 120 km rail line to a deepwater port at Cape Hardy on Spencer Gulf (Fig. 3).

A further feature on South Australian magnetite will follow in the next edition of the MESA Journal.

Download the strategy (PDF 11.4 MB)

– Grace Taylor

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