Established in 1958, Senmin improves the metallurgical performance of mines by developing, manufacturing and supplying a range of reagents for ore beneficiation process involving flotation technologies, as well as solutions for tailings management. Inside Mining talks exclusively to managing director Theunis Botha.

Senmin is both a manufacturer and service provider. Can you elaborate a bit on the service model you offer clients?

Since every mine is unique in terms of metallurgy, ore, processing equipment and water quality, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach when it comes to ore beneficiation processes that involve flotation technologies, as well as the management of tailings.

Together with our customers, we leverage our vast analytical capability, experience, knowledge and state-of-the-art resources to establish the best reagent suite for the achievement of optimal grades and recoveries in a specific situation.

Once a reagent suite is in place, ongoing refinement is imperative for success. A customer who subscribes to our full-service model benefits from the on-site presence of our metallurgical experts 24/7. Our team ensures the correct make-up and application of reagents. They monitor performance, implement continuous improvement programmes and resolve issues in real-time. The provision of logistics, make-up equipment and storage add further value and practical support.  As a result, mine personnel are free to concentrate on production. There are also cost- and space-savings.

Can you tell us a bit about your strategy to expand into Africa? What countries are you represented in at present? What is next in terms of your expansion?

As a member of AECI’s mining cluster, we are focused on growing our business in Africa, Australia, Brazil and Chile. A partnership-driven model is in place, whereby we support AEL Mining Services’ customers, as well as customers who come to us directly. Presently, we have representation in Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Morocco, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

What are the particular challenges presented by the larger African market?

There are a number of challenges, namely debtor management, language, logistics and skill shortages.

Can you explain a bit about your involvement with AECI’s mining chemicals venture?

Senmin is a wholly-owned subsidiary of AECI, Africa’s leading explosives and specialty chemicals company. Together with AEL Mining Services and ImproChem, we are a member of AECI’s Mining Cluster.

AEL is one of the world’s leading suppliers of explosives and initiating systems, whereas ImproChem is GE’s Chemical and Monitoring Solutions (CMS) partner in Africa and a pre-eminent provider of water-treatment chemicals, equipment and services to the mineral processing/mining industry. 

Wherever possible, we leverage synergies and share best practices. This collective approach means mining houses can secure a basket of goods and services from a single point of contact, which improves efficiencies in logistics and procurement. AECI’s other Clusters are: Oil, water, energy and gas; Agriculture; Food additives and Distribution of specialty chemicals in Africa

Tell us a bit more about the expansion of Senmin’s Sasolburg manufacturing facility.

Following the recent completion of a significant capital expenditure programme, we increased our manufacturing capacity and product range, while reducing our carbon footprint, particularly in terms of energy and waste. These positive advances were made possible through the implementation of eco-friendly processes, such as closed-loop systems.

At the same time, self-sufficiency of supply was achieved in a number of areas, like CS2. Our requirements for importing raw materials declined accordingly. Presently, a state-of-the-art research and development centre is under construction.

Specific investments were:

• construction of a new polyacrylamide facility that utilises biotechnology processes (the unit is the only one in Africa)

• expansion of the guar depressant facility

• increased xanthate capacity for a larger range, such as amyl, ethyl and isobutyl.

What are some of the latest products and developments you have introduced into this sector?

Some of the products we have introduced are:

• flocculants for water treatment

• Novel Senkol co-collectors that enhance platinum recoveries

• Novel depressants for improved grade and recovery of ore.

What are some of the latest projects/commodity sectors you have been involved with?

Some of the projects we have been involved with include:

• aluminium and iron ore, particularly in Australia, Brazil and Chile

• complex ores containing copper, gold/silver, molybdenum and zinc.

What are some of the latest trends, particularly in terms of sustainability and environmental awareness?

Some of the latest trends are energy, waste and water.

What are some of the latest issues impacting on the cost of mining chemicals?

The latest issues are:

• energy

• labour

• parity pricing

• rate of exchange on imports.

How has the downturn in the mining industry impacted on your business?

Since delivering a world-class service at the lowest cost is imperative, we have become even more innovative. We are also growing further afield, including exports.

What is your outlook for growth going forward? What do you see as your main opportunities?

We are positive about the future. The main opportunities are:

• delivering on issues facing mines, such as declining ore grades, remote locations, water scarcity, etc.

• developing new products to deal with complex low grade ores

• ‘exporting’ Senmin’s full-service model to Australia, Brazil, Chile and the rest of Africa

• innovating green solutions .