PARIS, March 25 Israel's Leviev Group (LGC) aims
by 2018 to start mining fertiliser material phosphate off
Namibia's coast after addressing concerns that led the country
last year to announce an 18-month freeze on new environment
permits for marine mines.
Deep-sea mining has attracted growing interest as technology
has opened up new resources that could replace depleted land
mines. But projects have stirred debate about environmental
risks in the southwest African country and elsewhere.
LGC hopes a demonstration processing plant it plans to
launch this year at the port of Luderitz will address such
concerns and allow full-scale construction work to proceed so
production can start in 2017 or 2018, Erez Mishal, vice
president, business development and operations, said on Tuesday.
"This will help us to obtain the licence," he said on the
sidelines of the CRU Phosphates 2014 conference.
LGC, which has gold and diamond mines and previously
extracted diamonds from the seabed off Namibia in partnership
with De Beers, estimates it can mine about 2 million
tonnes of phosphate rock a year at a depth of up to 300 metres
below the sea in a deposit it evaluates at 2 billion tonnes.
After a self-financed $20 million investment in the
preliminary stages, it would like to find an industry partner
for the full development that would require a $800 million
investment, Mishal said following a presentation.
Phosphate is one of three major crop nutrients, along with
potash and nitrogen.
LGC is touting the project, which is being developed by its
subsidiary LL Namibia Phosphates, as offering the lowest
phosphate rock production costs in the world at a projected
$16.61 a tonne, supported by an acid-based processing technique
that reduces the need to remove impurities first from the rock.
This would be about half the $33 a tonne reported by Mosaic
, the world's biggest maker of finished phosphate
products, as its average phosphate rock mining cost last year.
There has been debate in recent years about the approach of
so-called peak phosphate supply, after which output will
decline, but LGC and technical partner EcoPhos say their process
allows the use of low-grade rock that was not feasible before.
"We speak a lot about peak phosphates but it's the peak of
high-grade phosphates," Yannick Vancoppenolle, process and
product marketing manager at EcoPhos, said.
(Reporting by Gus Trompiz; Editing by Anthony Barker)