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Transforming Madagascar’s wilderness into a high-tech graphite hub

Madagascar ranks among the least developed countries in the world, yet boasts an abundance of valuable natural resources to help attract essential foreign investment and drive socio-economic development. One of the country’s highest potential exports is its valuable, high-grade graphite deposits which are ideal for battery production.

One company helping to unlock the potential of these deposits is South African engineering, procurement, and construction management (EPCM) company Erudite, which was approached by Canadian-based NextSource Materials in 2021 to manage the first phase of beneficiation infrastructure development for its Molo Mine near Fortadrevo in the southern part of the island. Following years of dedication and commitment, Nextsource Materials Inc has proudly announced that the mine is now operational and currently extracting graphite ore with significant value to the local economy.

“The region is completely agrarian. When we first arrived, there was little to no basic infrastructure or essential services in the area. The few roads leading into the region were in substantial despair, and there was little in the way of water reticulation or power generation. The nearest city, Toliara in the south-western part of Madagascar, is more than 160 kilometres away. This was a true greenfield project in every sense of the word,” explains Johan Claassen, Senior Project Manager at Erudite.

“Erudite was responsible for appointing and managing each of the contractors that was used to construct the entire mining complex. We further managed the bulk of the procurement, cost control, scheduling, and planning, after project execution, and all of the associated infrastructure engineering processes.”

Employing mostly local contractors and a few international service providers, Erudite and NextSource set up basic infrastructure, office spaces, a mining camp for over 70 people, change houses for the workers, a laboratory, and laid groundwork for further construction, including for a beneficiation plant and the mine itself.

When fully operational, the mine will have a planned extraction capacity of 240 kilotonnes per annum (ktpa) of raw graphite ore with a production capacity of 17 ktpa high carbon graphite flake.

EPCMs’ unique role in greenfield mine development

Erudite has the ability and capacity to bring world-class expertise and innovative solutions to intricate projects in the most remote and harshest environments on the planet.  Moreover, companies such as Erudite place a heavy emphasis on sustainability, social responsibility, and the navigation of often ambiguous regulatory requirements.

“Our greatest challenge was logistics. Our team members flew to Toliara and then took on the demanding 160-kilometre trek to the site. When dry, it took about 12 hours to cover this distance in a 4X4. For a truck carrying essential, expensive, and relatively delicate equipment and materials, it took much longer and increased risk levels tenfold,” Claassen says.

The plant, designed and constructed by a firm from China, brought in 107 pre-fabricated process plant modules between August 2022 to and November 2022, and Erudite was further tasked with managing the import and transportation logistics. November also marks the beginning of the country’s rainy season, which made it even more difficult to navigate the unpaved roads enroute to the mine.

“If it were not for our experienced team members and expert internal logistics manager, we would still be assembling the plant today. It’s not as simple as uploading and unloading materials from a truck. There are hundreds of pages of paperwork and certificates to fill out, and challenging regulatory procedures to get all the pieces to where they need to go,” he says.

Claassen reports that phase one has since been completed well within budget and on time with over 500,000 lost time injury-free hours worked, meaning that the various teams experienced no reportable incidents throughout the course of the project.