2020 was a tumultuous year, long to be remembered as the start of the global Covid-19 pandemic. In order to curb the spread of the coronavirus, South Africa declared a State of Disaster allowing coordination of all government and NGO responses by the newly constituted National Coronavirus Command Council. What followed was an authoritarian enforcement of some of the most restrictive and enduring lockdown measures imposed globally. These restrictions were mostly successful in curbing the spread of Covid-19 but with disastrous impact on all sectors of the South African economy now formally in recession.
X GROUP suffered a brief disruption of business activities at both ENVEX and IPEX Solutions during this challenging period, despite which the group managed to protect all employees at full remuneration without a single case of Covid-19 recorded. The team still managed to achieve several important business development milestones set out at the start of the year. Regardless of these multiple challenges we made great strides towards the stated objective of recovering premium quality metals from various secondary resources.
The first quarter (Q1) of 2020 kicked off with IPEX Solutions undertaking two technology developments; firstly, an IX pilot study to produce 99.6% purity vanadyl sulphate solution (measured as metal oxides) which prompted a number of further refinements to our SMB IX process aiming for ultrapure product specifications. A parallel technical focus during Q1 was bench scale development of a viable process for recovery of vanadium and nickel values from select petrochemical residues including fly ash and petcoke cinder.
During Q1 2020 Core IPEX Pty Ltd was formally established in Queensland as an incorporated joint venture between Core Resources and X GROUP for the explicit purpose of further refinement and commercialisation of the IPEX IX technology. IPEX also installed and commissioned, in the Brisbane-based laboratories of Core Resources, a dedicated pilot plant suitable for evaluating and demonstrating the IPEX technology on various Australian and other value recovery opportunities.
The second quarter (Q2) kicked off with hard lockdown measures shutting down activities, restricting all but the most essential movement of people. This quiet time was ideal for finessing design improvements to the SMB IX circuit promising ultrapure eluates recovered directly off resin beds. The new process improvements were constructed and commissioned during May and operated at steady state over the following weeks towards the end of Q2. Our leaching process developments for petcoke cinder was successfully concluded towards the end of Q2 with >90% recovery of metal values into the leachate at compelling reagent economics.
During the third quarter (Q3) IPEX Solutions confirmed success in producing close to three-nines purity V2O5 (99.9%) via our new vanadyl sulphate process route. This is considered a major breakthrough towards producing VRB electrolyte production directly from the SMB IX process. Further work on petcoke cinder was undertaken during this period including a bulk leach for assessing isolation and concentration of vanadium values. Favourable results were obtained, promising saleable vanadium products at overall recovery of 74% at a competitive extraction cost of below $3.50/lb V2O5.
In the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2020 IPEX Solutions commenced a new pilot program on calcine tailings leach solution with its IX process configured as an alkaline AMV circuit. V2O5 produced via this flowsheet exceeded 99.9% purity, independently confirmed by three reputable laboratories in South Africa. This is a major milestone for X GROUP and the culmination of more than a decade of focussed effort. The two alternative process options for producing high purity vanadium from calcine tailings leachate and vanadium effluents branded as UltraV is now on offer to X GROUP primary producer clients.
In summary, 2020 will also be remembered for excellent progress towards our objective of improved recycling of secondary resources recovering a range of high purity metal products selling at a premium.
X GROUP management and shareholders would like to extend our deep appreciation to all of our valued employees for an unwavering commitment, keen focus and strong discipline maintained under trying and often stressful circumstances.