Vanadium is a metal element that is used as an additive for steel, increasing its strength for use in tools, surgical instruments and even jet engines.
During production, the ore is placed into a large tank containing a special solution, which leaches the vanadium from it, which falls to the base for collection.
ALE was chosen to transport four such tanks from their point of manufacture near Johannesburg to a mine site in North West Province. It advised on a delivery strategy from an early stage, allowing the client to avoid an onsite stick build approach that would have posed many challenges, such as requiring workers to be fitted with gas masks and creating the potential to produce a non-watertight vessel.
Instead, the tanks were delivered as a complete module from their location of manufacture in Vanderbijlpark, a distance of 252.3km to site. One after the other over a course of seven months, the tanks were received, transported across one of the country’s most metropolitan provinces, and installed.
The tanks were received at the workshop, where they were jacked-up to a height of approximately two metres by four 150t jacks. Following this, a prime mover fitted with a Cometto 18-axle 2 file trailer was reversed underneath the tank, ultimately taking the load.
The transportation route had been planned optimally around the nearby cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria. Nevertheless, ALE had obtained a wealth of transport permits, de-energising and lifting services for overhead power cables along the route, and escorts from local law enforcement, where required.
Upon reaching the mine site, a significant challenge was still presented by its compactness, and the many buildings in place nearby. To combat this, the tanks were staged onto stools and reloaded onto two SPMTs in a 2 x 6-axle configuration.
During installation, the tanks were jacked-up using the same equipment as before, then lowered onto a jacking and skidding system consisting of four skidding tracks, eight skidding beams and four push-pull cylinders. The base of the tank is designed to lie at an angle, allowing vanadium deposits to be scraped up and harvested, and so ALE designed a swivel and interfacing point that manoeuvred to the required 2° tilt.
At 41.4m x 7.57m x 6.91m and at 263t, the leach tanks were some of the largest items ever to be transported through Gauteng province. Each transportation and installation procedure combined took approximately two weeks to complete.
The mine is expected to output over 3 400 megatons of vanadium during 2020, rising to 5 000 in the near future as part of this expansion programme – providing southern Africa with a vital building block of industry and technology.