Metro Mining – Mining Bauxite and Talent
Metro Mining is a small but rapidly expanding mining operation, drawing on local resources and indigenous talent.
As the energy transition is underway, and electrification becomes an increasing necessity, there is one material that is going to see growing demand across all industries- aluminium. Metro Mining is a company that is going to prove crucial in meeting that demand.
Metro Mining holds leases in the Weipa Bauxite Region on the west side of Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula. Bauxite’s been produced out there for years. Operating out of a number of tenements across the Cape, the firm has been mining for just under five years since it was established in 2018.
“Our business supplies hydrate bauxite, the ore necessary for aluminium, a critical metal in the construction and transportation industries,” says Simon Wensley, CEO of Metro Mining. “It will underpin the energy transition in terms of solar, wind, and electrification. There is a strong demand for aluminium.”
Metro Mining’s current operation produces a high-grade unprocessed ore, a direct shipping ore (DSO) blended and sieved to a uniform size before it gets transported. It is a low footprint operation focused on mining and transportation, with a trans-shipping model whereby ore is loaded onto barges, which are then sent to anchorages offshore and transported via a floating train of barges to large ocean-going vessels which take the bauxite into the traders’ market.
“Our primary customers reside in China at the moment, so we’re well-positioned for that market, eight or nine days sailing due north up into China,” Wensley points out.
Metro Mining is well positioned, but it also has an impressive capacity of 4 million tons of ore per annum, and that ore is of extremely high quality.
“The bauxite has a high level of content, it is high-grade, high alumina ore,” Wensley tells us. “We’re close to the market and provide consistent product and a creative set of services to go with that in terms of technical services and logistics.”
The key is that Metro Mines is not only providing the critical ore, but also the shipping services necessary to bring that ore to the market.
“Technical services and logistics are both critical. We ship in very large cape-sized vessels, carrying 180,000 tons, and we charter those vessels to deliver to our customers in mainland China into large ports,” Wensley says. “It’s an important service for those customers that don’t participate in the freight market themselves.”
As well as getting the ore to where it needs to be, Metro Mining also provides vital technical support. Bauxite is not a fungible commodity; it requires a great deal of processing to be useful.
“To make sure that runs optimally and produces a good aluminium product, we have a team in China to follow up with customers and help them understand how to get the best use of out of the bauxite in their refining conditions,” Wensley explains. “We give them the optimal grinding size, temperature and so on. There are a few ways to get the best out of our product, a few things that need to be optimised, and we have expertise there.”
Metro Mining understands the importance of a strong supply chain, thanks to the remote location of its operations.
“There are no field roads, so all our resources have to come in by boat or by plane. So, managing inbound logistics is a challenge,” Wensley says. “We work with barging and freight partners who bring goods in by barge, and we have effectively underpinned the purchase of an aircraft that we fly in and out of Cairns to bring people on and off-site. We take a long-term perspective with partners who can provide those logistics.”
It is an approach that has proved particularly beneficial to Metro Mining’s staff, many of whom also hail from remote locations.
“We lay on special flights to all the local communities. Given we have the use of an aircraft we can be flexible in going to the small airports that support the local communities, flying people directly in and out,” Wensley says.
This is valuable given the large proportion, 30%, of Metro Mining’s workers who come from local, Indigenous communities, a very high number compared to other mining companies.
As Wensley points out, “We try to recruit heavily from the far north Queensland area, with 80% of our wages going into that area. What we try to do is try to employ as many local people as possible. We have partnerships with the traditional owners of the native title of the land, and we are employing as many local Indigenous people from the surrounding villages as possible.”
It is something Wensley is particularly proud of, and hopes to build on, with a target of 40% indigenous employment on the cards.
“It’s about engaging at every level, from the young people to the older groups, providing them with an environment where they can feel safe operationally and culturally,” Wensley says. “We are trying to be sensitive to the history of the land in which we operate, and that sensitivity and awareness make Indigenous employees feel more comfortable. Meanwhile, we are providing training and pathways to bring forward different skills. That is available to all our employees but being part of a small company gives our people a sense of place and a sense of fulfilment in a way a larger organisation might not recognise. We are quite a small site so we build a community spirit on-site through our leaders taking a strong role in bringing people together.”
A Changing Climate
Another growing challenge for Metro Mining is the weather. Northern Australia faces a significant monsoon season each year, and the climate is only becoming more unpredictable.
“We try to prepare ourselves for wetter weather in terms of how we operate. We have environmental management techniques to make sure we operate sustainably even when the weather gets difficult, such as preparing our roads,” Wensley explains. “We spend a lot of time on maintenance and working with trans-shipping partners to optimise the safety of our operations when the weather gets difficult. We have protocols we can enact quickly. It is all about being prepared, having plans and capable people in the right places, and being enabled to enact those plans when necessary.”
Speaking of plans, Wensley has big plans for Metro Mining’s future.
“We have just announced in June that the board has made an investment decision to expand our operations. Currently, the investment is $4 million, so we are expanding to $7 million,” Wensley tells us. “The first few years of that are underpinned by sales contracts already, so that is a good sign of confidence in the project. We are now in the process of expansion, including planning, execution, engineering, and procurement. The total cost of expansion will be $28 million – low for a mining company. We hope to have that in place by Q3 next year.”