Bushveld targets reliability in 2021 following decision to shut plant for 35 days

BUSHVELD Minerals would prioritise operational reliability in 2021 after its vanadium operations suffered a shutdown in the fourth quarter.

“The biggest key phrase for us is ensuring reliability and predictability,” said Fortune Mojapelo, CEO of Bushveld Minerals.

Fourth quarter group production was seven percent below the previous quarter which Bushveld blamed on “unplanned maintenance stoppages” and severe weather.

Vanadium production for 2021 is estimated to be 4,100 tons to 4,350 tons. This represented a 13% to 20% increase over 2020 production (3,631 tons), but it would also involve a first quarter, 35-day maintenance shutdown at its Vametco plant. It also operates the Vanchem facilities.

“Additional maintenance work has been identified at Vametco which will require further downtime in the year, while further debottlenecking activities will be required on certain parts of the plant,” said Mojapelo in commentary to the firm’s published output numbers.

Asked about the downtime in a conference call, however, Mojapelo said: “We want to push growth because we can produce at higher levels, but at the same time we should be prioritising reliability”. The company’s last major maintenance program was in 2019.

Bushveld Minerals plans to expand its South African vanadium production to 8,400 tons a year from 2,931 in its 2019 financial year. All in all, its expansion ambitions carry a $100m price tag. It spent $53m last year buying the Vanchem facilities from a rival company. It also has the Mokopane vanadium resource that it wants to develop.

Vanadium is used in the steel manufacturing process but it has also been earmarked to play a greater role in the development of stationary long-life batteries which are thought to have a role in decarbonisation.