ZincOx was formed in 1999 by Andrew Woollett and Noel Masson. The senior management of the company were formerly with Reunion Mining plc, a British junior mining and exploration company that was ultimately taken over by Anglo American plc.
Reunion explored for and developed mineral resources in Africa. It was formed by Andrew Woollett and Peter Wynter Bee in 1989 at a time when several African countries had rejected central communist economic principles and were changing their investment regulations to encourage foreign investment. Due to a dearth of mineral exploration and development during the post colonial communist influenced era, new exploration concepts and process technology had passed Africa by. The application of these new ideas to Africa created a relatively low risk and exciting mineral investment opportunity that Reunion was established to realize. Over the course of the next 10 years, Reunion explored in twelve countries and developed two mines (copper and gold).
Skorpion Mine and Electro Refinery
In 1996, Reunion farmed into Anglo American’s Skorpion zinc oxide deposit, in Namibia. Anglo American had been unable to find an economic process to treat this ore due to its unconventional mineralogy. Under the terms of the farm-in, Reunion could earn a 60% interest in the project by completing a bankable feasibility study. Over the course of the next two years, exploration doubled the reserve (20 million tonnes at 10% zinc).
The Skorpion project saw the first use of solvent extraction to recover zinc from a primary deposit. Tecnicas Reunidas were critically involved in the success of this project. As a world leader in zinc solvent extraction technologies, it provided and licensed the zinc solvent extraction process now in full-scale operation at Skorpion. Rather than isolate the zinc bearing minerals for sale as a concentrate, zinc was recovered by direct dissolution in dilute sulphuric acid. The solution was filtered and purified using zinc solvent extraction prior to fairly conventional electrowinning, melting and casting.
Following the completion of the feasibility and earn-in, in 1999 Anglo American purchased Reunion. Anglo American developed the Skorpion mine and integrated electro-refinery at a cost of US$450 million and it became one of the largest zinc mines in the world (150,000 tonnes per annum) with the lowest operating cost.
ZincOx was set up to repeat the success of the Skorpion.
ZincOx initially carried out an extensive literature review of geological records to identify zinc oxide deposits. It was immediately clear that each deposit had slightly and some times markedly different mineralogy and that each would require a bespoke metallurgical solution. The company started to build up a team of metallurgists and chemical engineers and to establish special working relationships with a number of European universities and laboratories.
The company’s first mining interests were obtained in Jabali, Yemen through an earn-in that was agreed in 1997. This deposit presented many complex technical challenges but the feasibility study and earn-in were finally completed in 2005. With the refocusing of the Group on recycling, the Jabali plant was sold to Ansan, the joint venture partner for a deferred consideration similar to the Shameirden sale structure.