The Kiwi mining industry may be about to receive a boost from an unusual direction. The Pebbly Hills area of Crown land at Hedgehope on the Hokonui Hills of Southland has become a place of interest to mining investors in China and the United States.
This follows the research in the area undertaken by the Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research, the largest independent research organisation in Scandinavia, commissioned by Venture Southland.
The foundation completed a detailed analysis of the Southland silica gravel samples and reported to the southern promotional organisation. For some years has been promoting the potential of a silica industry in Southland, based on earlier research it had commissioned.
According to Venture Southland the latest report confirms the presence of high-quality silica deposits, which could be processed to manufacture electronics-grade and solar-grade silicon. The agency’s ‘Silica Opportunity Profile’ was then passed on to interested parties in China and the United States. According to Venture Southland general manager of special projects, Steve Canny, there are several parties interested in developing a silica industry in Southland and there are indications the deposits could be worth billions of dollars when smelted into silicon for computer chips and solar panels.
Southland has rare “very high” purity natural silica reserves and there are one billion tonnes of high-purity silica in the region, he says. Of that, 350 million tonnes were pebble size and suitable for refining.
This is not the first time there have been moves to mine the silica deposits in Southland. Back in 2012 Silicon Metal Industries (NZ) said it intended to convert the deposits in Southland into silicon metal, which is used in the manufacture of rubber tyres and high-technology products such as solar panels, silicon chips, liquid crystal displays, silicon plastics, light metal alloys and long-life silicon paints. The company had an exploration permit and an access agreement for gravel deposits at Pebbly Hills in the Hokonui Hills. That company then undertook a feasibility study and found it would cost $300 million to build a silicon smelter. It did not proceed with the project.
However, Steve Canny says that despite that failed venture, he believes the time is right to mine the region’s silicon deposits. He says there has been a massive increase in the international demand for polysilica and that there have been major changes to the way the silica would be extracted and smelted and significant reductions in costs. By Peter Owens.