The Sino iron project is the largest magnetite mining and processing operation in Australia. Image courtesy of CITIC Pacific Mining Management Pty Ltd.
The annual production of Sino iron project was 16Mt in 2017. Image courtesy of CITIC Pacific Mining Management Pty Ltd.
The magnetite concentrates are shipped to China from a purpose-built port at Cape Preston. Image courtesy of CITIC Pacific Mining Management Pty Ltd.

The Sino iron project will be the world’s biggest magnetite iron ore mine when fully operational. The open-pit mine, located in Cape Preston, about 100km south-west of Karratha, Pilbara, Western Australia, will produce magnetite concentrate and pellets.

The open-pit mine itself is spread over more than 2.5km² in area, which is expected to triple over the estimated lifespan of approximately 30 years.

CITIC Pacific Mining Management purchased the mining rights over the property from Mineralogy, a company owned by popular entrepreneur Clive Palmer, in 2006 and initiated construction in the same year. The project employed 4,000 people during the peak construction phase.

The project was completed in 2014, approximately four years behind schedule. It consists of six production lines, of which the first two lines were operational by end of 2013. First shipment of fine iron ore from the mine was made to China in December 2013 and the project delivered 74Mt of high-grade product since exports commenced.

The mine exported more than 20 million tons of wet metric concentrate to the special steel plants of CITIC and other Chinese and Asian steel mills in 2019.

The project has not only suffered significant delays and consequent cost overruns but was also entangled in legal disputes with Mineralogy as the latter filed a case to cancel CITIC Pacific’s mining rights over the property citing the failure of royalty payment as the reason.

Geology, reserves and mineralisation of Sino iron ore deposit

The Sino iron project geologically lies near the George Palmer deposit, which is situated within the Hamersley basin and hosts two banded iron ore formations (BIF) of 300m and 150m thicknesses.

The mineralisation occurs in a steeply dipping BIF comprising of high-graded magnetite and haematite, and low-graded carbonates, silicates, phosphorous and chert contaminants.

The two production lines of the first phase produce up to four million tonnes of powdered iron each. The mine has an estimated annual production capacity of 24 billion tonnes of iron ore.

Iron ore mining and processing at the Sino project

Conventional open-cut mining methods including drilling, blasting, loading and hauling are used to mine iron ore from the Sino deposit. The pit will be approximately 500m-deep. Processing facilities at the mine site include a crusher, a concentrator, and a 6mt pelletising plant.

Sino Iron employed some of the world’s biggest haul trucks and excavators. Weighing 260t, the haul truck has a capacity of 340t while the main excavator weighs 1,000t and has a load capability of 4,500t of ore an hour.

The crushed ore enters grinding mills where fine ore stream is produced and transferred to magnetic separators to produce a concentrate. The concentrate is thickened and stored before pumping to the port. It is filtered to reduce moisture and exported for use in steel making.

The four in-pit crushers from Germany have a crushing capacity of crushing 4,250t of ore an hour a unit. The conveyer belt bearing crushed ore from the mine to the concentrate area is approximately 1.7km.

The main AG mill with 28MW gearless motors has a diameter of 12.2m and a length of 11m. The ball mill, the second stage grinding unit, is 7.9m in diameter and 13.6m-long. It is equipped with two 7,800kW motors.

Each of the processing lines used 52 magnetic separators, each containing seven press filters and four dewatering buildings. Each press filter has a production capability of 154t of concentrate an hour.

Power supply to the Sino project

A 480MW power station consisting of seven SGT-800 gas turbines of 44MW each by Siemens supplies power to the plant. It also comprises three steam turbines with 58MW of capacity each and two heat recovery steam generators.

Apache Northwest and Santos Offshore signed a $1.3bn gas supply agreement to supply gas sourced from the Reindeer offshore gas field to the power plant at the mine site.

Ancillary facilities at the mine include a 140,000m³ a day desalination plant and a dewatering pit with a filtration area of approximately 5,600m². The EPC contract for the desalination plant was awarded to Ausenco.

The desalination plant’s two trains can deliver up to 70 megalitres of water a day while the total plant capacity is 140 megalitres a day or 51 gigalitres per annum.

A 25km slurry pipeline transports the end product to the port.

Contractors, subcontractors and suppliers

China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) was the engineering, procurement and construction management (EPCM) contractor for the project.

Forge Group Construction was contracted for the design and construction of several facilities at the mine, including filter building structures, foundations for equipment such as stackers and tanks, as well as the main control building at the port.

Golder Associates was involved in various stages of the project right from the exploration stage to the development stage, in activities such as reviewing the reserves, on-site drilling, GIS services and tailing studies.

Under a $40m contract, Forge subsidiary Cimeco completed the civil works for the mine’s stockpile area. Kerman Contracting completed works associated with production lines three to six.

VDM Group subsidiary Wylie and Skene was awarded a contract by MCC for the construction of accommodation and warehouse facilities at the project site. Under a $240m 50:50 JV with NRW Civil & Mining, VDM performed earthworks at the mine.

Structural, mechanical and piping (SMP), electrical, and concrete works were carried out by Thiess. BGC Contracting built the foundations for six trains of autogenous grinding (AG) mills and pebble crushers under an $80m contract. Reinforced Earth constructed the walls for crushers three and four under a contract from BGC Contracting.

Catalpa was engaged in casting the in-situ intake pumping station and constructing the associated in-situ slabs for the desalination plant.

McNally performed the design, engineering, fabrication, transport and installation of an administration office, laboratory and ablutions building consisting of 17 concrete chassis modules in total.

Murphy Pipe and Civil constructed concentrate, desalination and return pipelines for the mine using the equipment and personnel supplied by Orion Pipeline. MCC contracted Monadelphous for pipeworks associated with the concentrator. CADS assisted in the construction of the $20m slurry and return water pipelines.

The contract to construct the marine facilities associated with the project was awarded to McConnell Dowell Constructors.

Fire protection solutions from Wormald are installed at the mine. Civil works of the processing plant were carried by the Allmine Group. Access roads and highway intersections were built by HICAL.

Metso Minerals supplied mineral processing equipment for the mine. Iron ore processing equipment comprising two PE jaw crushers, one PY Cone crusher, one ball mill, one ZSW vibrating feeder, one YK vibrating screen and one conveyor belt were delivered by DSMAC.

The electrical installation and pre-commissioning works worth $100m for lines 1-6 at the Sino iron ore project were completed by SCEE.