South Africa has no zinc refinery to support the vast consumption of galvanized steel in the country. Amid the government’s push for infrastructure growth, the International Zinc Association (IZA) has suggested a plan to build a zinc refinery at Saldanha Bay. Simon Norton from the Africa Desk of IZA emphasizes the need to refine zinc locally for producing galvanized steel to rebuild South Africa’s water and wastewater treatment plants and national rail network.
South Africa hosts 20pc of the global zinc deposits but does not refine zinc following the closure of the Zincor refinery in Springs by Exxaro in 2011. The country had an annual refined zinc production of 110,000mt before the closure, which was worth ZAR4.3bn ($0.29bn). Between 2014 and 2019, the country imported ZAR15bn worth of refined zinc. In 2020, 47,000mt of refined zinc was imported, excluding zinc rod, bar, etc.
IZA Africa Desk has laid out plans to reduce imports and has proposed a new zinc refinery at Saldanha Bay Industrial Development Zone. This mini plant with an annual capacity to produce 40,000mt of refined zinc can be later ramped to 60,000mt if required. The process can run on marginal external power input, with a target of 50pc less power usage than any currently known method of zinc refining.