Rand York Minerals celebrates 30 years delivering environmentally and health-friendly chromite sand

Hosting and organising the South African Chrome Industry Dinner and Awards Ceremony, being the recipient of the South African President’s award for export activities on two occasions and elected as President of the International Chromium Development Association (ICDA) are a few of the major achievements of Rand York Minerals and its CEO Zelda du Preez, during the company’s 30-year history.

Established in 1992 with a view of processing and marketing foundry chromite sand and chemical grade chromite sand the company has built up an enviable reputation and track record in the foundry industry worldwide, supplying foundries with quality grade chromite sand.

“South Africa is one of the major producers of chrome sand in the world. South Africa has approximately 80% of global chrome ore reserves. The product is generated in the process of mining chrome ore, a key input in the production of ferrochrome. Production of steel, especially that of stainless steel with chromium content of 10 to 20%, is the largest consumer and the main application of ferrochrome. It is estimated that over 80% of the world’s ferrochrome is utilised in the production of stainless steel, a very valuable and recognised metal that is used in many different applications across all industries,” continued du Preez.

Rand York Minerals sources most of its materials from the Bushveld Complex, the largest layered intrusion in the world. It hosts the largest chromium, vanadium and platinum-group metals deposits

“Therefore, the lion’s share of chrome ore is utilised in the production of ferrochrome. Accordingly, the vast bulk of chrome ore was not traded but was rather produced and consumed in the vertically integrated process of mining chrome ore and producing ferrochrome. In South Africa this was the case for most of the mining companies mining chrome ore. This has changed somewhat and the ferrochrome producers are not what they used to be. Nowadays the mining companies will mine the chrome ore and export it, mostly to China, without adding any value.”

“It is worth pointing out that Chinese stainless steel production capacity has grown from 8.6 million tons in 2008 to 30.7 million tons in 2019. And they don’t have chrome ore reserves.”

“However, a residual quantity of the mined chrome ore is available to users other than the vertically integrated ferrochrome producers. This comes in the form of chrome sand, which is used in the foundry casting processes, ladle filler sand in steel plants, as well as in the production of certain glass, chemical and pharmaceutical products.”

“There is a misconception that this residual trade in chrome sand has created an opportunity for middlemen who, in purchasing chrome sand for on-sale to the end users, add a minimal value, largely in the form of drying and bagging of the product.”

Established in 1992 Rand York Minerals processes and markets foundry chromite sand and chemical grade chromite sand locally and internationally

“This is completely inaccurate, especially in the case of Rand York Minerals. We don’t just deliver product. We provide technical support in advising customers on the selection of materials, methods and calculations to aid production of castings, small and large.”

“The vast majority of chromite sand used in foundries comes from South Africa. While there are large chrome ore deposits in other regions, the type of formation, crystal size and impurities, result in most instances, in it being undesirable for foundry use.”

“The chrome sand that is used as foundry sand is sought after because of its properties. It can also be separated and further enhanced by washing out the silica. It is actually better than the normal met grade.”

“As a moulding material, chromite sand has low thermal expansion, better heat conductivity, and better refractoriness. It also promotes reduced metal penetration, which eliminates defects such as veining and sand burning, which are typical with silica-based moulds. The material is used for large casting parts and castings of several high alloy metals, which is either impossible or difficult with silica sand. Most importantly, chromite sand used in foundry applications is known to be environmentally and health-friendly.”

Chromite sand in 1-ton bags ready for delivery

“According to the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals and the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), foundry chromite sand is not listed as a physical or chemical hazard, nor as a human health or environmental hazard.”

“Silica sand is the preferred moulding aggregate in sand casting, since it is readily available and is cheap worldwide. However, silica dust has been associated with respiratory diseases such as silicosis and tuberculosis. In terms of environmental protection, new regulatory restrictions on the disposal of used sand have created the need for moulding aggregates to be more recyclable than what silica sand is.”

New opportunities in refractory and foundry markets for chromite sand
“Principally Rand York Minerals was established as a result of international suppliers of chromite sand looking for alternative sources in South Africa. There was initially a half-hearted attempt to setup a processing plant but after some broken promises the international contacts sought other sources. Myself and some other shareholders then approached Pretklerk Beleggings Pty Ltd, an investment company with interests in the mining industry, to fund a plant to process the by-product of chrome ore into chromite sand.”

Rand York Minerals has a plant in the Bleskop area of the Bushveld Complex. Quality control is high up on the list of priorities

“At the time I was still completing my articles for my chartered accountant degree. Forming this company would be a challenge but at the same time it would give me an exciting opportunity to get start a new venture.”

“We set up a plant in the Bleskop area of the Bushveld Complex, an area of South Africa, that contains some of the richest ore deposits on earth. South Africa has the world’s largest chromite resources. The majority are situated in the Bushveld Complex, the largest layered intrusion in the world. It hosts the largest chromium, vanadium and platinum-group metals deposits.”

“Geologists estimate the complex represents more than 80% of global chromite reserves, covering an area of over 65 000km² with a thickness of 7 to 9km. It contains dunites, pyroxenites, anorthosites and oxides (chromite, magnetite), and displays a very well-marked horizontal layering, with layers a few mm to 100 metres thick, with an exceptional lateral continuity.”

The warehouse of Rand York Minerals

“The complex is subdivided from bottom to top into five zones: Lower Marginal Zone, Lower Zone (LZ), Critical Zone (CZ), Main Zone (MZ) and Upper Zone (UZ). All are formed of cumulates. The Critical Zone contains the platinum-group metals (PGM) and chromite mineralisation.”

“Our association with the mining industry afforded us the opportunity to source material to process from various mining operations in the area. Besides securing a material supply contract with one of the world’s largest multi-raw material mining companies that was involved in mining chrome ore, we also approached smaller suppliers. Although there were other chromite sand suppliers in the industry we decided to concentrate on beneficiating and marketing chromite sand only, unlike other suppliers who offer you many different raw materials, products and consumables used in the foundry and other industries.”

“This conscious decision would leave us vulnerable to market swings, buyouts, closures and moth-balling but it also allowed us to concentrate on producing sand that is clean, uniformly sized, high-quality and sought after by foundrymen worldwide. After all they are looking to produce castings with no defects and a good quality surface finish so that there is little or no fettling or after cast work to be done, which costs money.”

“In moulding applications where high thermal conductivity, heat resistance, dimensional stability, and casting surface finish are critical, chromite sand is the recommended solution. These chromite sand distributions support the production of castings with various alloy applications because they act as a “chill” (also known as thermal durability.) The resulting screen distribution of the chromite sand influences many foundry applications, including the casting surface appearance, binder level requirements, and overall performance.”

South Africa is one of the major producers of chrome sand in the world. South Africa has approximately 78% of global chrome ore reserves

“Chromite sand was introduced into the foundry industry in the early 1960s when zircon sand was in short supply. It presented new opportunities in the refractory and foundry markets for chromite. Our entry in the 1990s allowed us to develop an under-utilised product. Initially we only had one processing line in our plant but such has been our expansion that we now have four lines.”

“We now have a plant capacity to process in excess of 600 000 tons of material a year and even though we export to countries all over the world already, we are continually looking for new markets.”

“There have been changes in our suppliers over the years through various buyouts and takeovers. This is not unusual in the mining industry. Currently we have one main supplier and a number of smaller suppliers. We secured the main supplier in 2012 through a joint funding agreement and this allows us a steady and guaranteed supply of chrome ore offtake for many years.”

Community involvement
“For some years now, we have involved the local community in many of our production, logistical and distribution aspects of the company. They don’t work for the company but are preferred suppliers to the company as they have been encouraged and guided to start their own businesses. This gives them a sense of ownership and empowers them to increase their potential earnings. It also positively impacts on the lives of individuals and the community within the plant area.”

Foundries use chromite sand for manufacturing all sizes of castings. As a moulding material, chromite sand has low thermal expansion, better heat conductivity, and better refractoriness. It also promotes reduced metal penetration, which eliminates defects such as veining and sand burning, which are typical with silica-based moulds

“We also have permanent employees to run the processing plant. The plant is conveniently located alongside the railway line that runs to Durban and Richards Bay, approximately 160km North West of Johannesburg. Our head office is in Sandton, Johannesburg and there we employ 10 staff.”

“Currently we sell approximately 535 000mt of specialty grades and an additional 100 000mt of other grades for feedstock for various washing plants. The majority of our product is exported and we believe that we are one of the biggest chemical grade chromite ore suppliers globally. We pride ourselves on the ability to supply chemical grade chromite sand with some of the lowest silica (SiO2) content in the market, as our material is mined from the principal chromite ore deposits in South Africa. The mining operation is mainly open cast and mechanised.”

“Our foundry grade chromite sand is available in AFS 20-25, AFS 35-40 AFS 40-45, AFS 45-50, AFS 50-55 and AFS 60 and AFS 80+. Chemical grade ore is not sized.”

In the processing plant in Bleskop

“We have also recently secured supply contracts and can now offer chromite ores of Zimbabwean origin, that meet all the quality criteria of the world standard. The material is mined from the main chrome ore deposit that is located in the Selukwe mining district, in the midlands of Zimbabwe.”

Logistical challenges over the last two years
“With the majority of our product being exported recent logistical challenges have been severe with the last year being extremely stressful with port congestions, container shortages, limited capacity and extended delivery times to ports across the globe.”

Rand York Minerals’ CEO Zelda du Preez

“This was even before Russia declared war on Ukraine, two countries that we supply regularly. We had over 150 containers on the water, on the dockside waiting to get on a vessel and others off-loaded in Rotterdam waiting for transport to those two counties when the war started. Definitely a challenge to overcome.”

“Subsequently the flooding in Durban port also contributed to the various global challenges that we as exporters face.”

“We have had many highlights over the years but two of the most treasured ones were being handed the South African President’s award for export activity, once from President Mandela in 1998 and the other occasion from President Mbeki in 2000.”

For further details contact Rand York Minerals on TEL: 011 463 9000 or visit www.randyorksa.com