Agripower’s new $52 million fertiliser manufacturing plant is taking shape at Charters Towers, with commissioning planned in the first quarter of 2019.
The company plans to go out to tender soon for a contractor to carry out campaign mining at its Greenvale site to provide the amorphous silica ore for processing at the facility.
Agripower managing director Peter Prentice said the new 250,00tpa-capacity plant was nearing mechanical completion and that electrical completion was expected in January/February.
“The granulation plant should be commissioned in March (2019) and we are simultaneously building a smaller liquids plant with capacity of 750,000 litres per annum, that will be commissioned probably in April/May,” he said.
The company has been operating a pilot facility to produce a granular form of silicon fertiliser for the agricultural market, with the planned step-up to commercial production following in excess of 500 grower trials in 14 countries.
Mr Prentice said the construction had supported about 85 jobs including the on-site work and those involved in fabrication and engineering work in Charters Towers and Townsville businesses.
Key contractors have included Mineforce Australia, SMEC, FortisEM, TEM (Townsville Earth Moving), ICS Electrical Contractors, Wulguru Steel and AECOM.
Amorphous silica mined at Agripower’s Greenvale site will be screened at the new complex, milled and processed in a mixer to create a product with a rough ball shape. This is then smoothed to a sphere to mirror the shape, size and weight of the more common N:P:K (nitrogen-phosphate-potassium) fertiliser granules, so the products can be admixed without problems such as separation.
Mining contractor to be appointed
Mr Prentice said Agripower would seek a contractor to mine an initial 100,00-150,000 tonnes of ore commencing in May.
The campaign mining stints were expected to ramp up as the operation grew, he said.
“Eventually we’ll be getting to the point where we want to mine monthly and at that point we will look at buying our own plant and equipment (for mining at Greenvale),” he said.
The company has established a JORC resource of 1.8 billion tonnes of ore at the mine site.
Mr Prentice said Agripower would look to start hiring operators for the new plant from about February in the lead-up to commercial production at the new plant.
“We have about 24 people employed at the moment – that will go to 55-60 people including logistics and transport personnel as it ramps up in the first year,” he said.
Expansion on the horizon
The plant has been designed to be relatively easily scaled up through the addition of extra process lines.
“In 2019 we’ll have the new plant commissioned, we’ll be delivering into sales contracts, we’ll be growing the demand for the product nationally and internationally – and it wouldn’t surprise me, as we get to early 2020, if we’re starting to look at further expansion of the operation,” Mr Prentice said.
“Ultimately we see the project expanding quite significantly over the years ahead.
“I think it’s going to take us the next three years to bed down the international and Australian market for the product, but I would like to think that in the next three to five years we’re out there producing and selling in excess of 1 million tonnes a year.”