Every Friday morning, SAfm’s AMLive’s radio anchor Xolani Gwala speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:
Gwala: New US company Planetary Resources wants to mine platinum in outer space, and plans an initial space launch in the next 24 months.
Creamer: I just hope these Americans don't start raining on our parade. The platinum patch belongs to Southern Africa. They are claiming, this Planetary Resources, that there is much more platinum out in space than there has been mined on the earth so far. What they want to do is they want to look at the low-hanging fruit, the asteroids.
Science fiction writers have been writing about asteroids and the potential of metals and minerals on these asteroids for a long a time.
They want to turn that science fiction into a reality. I think all the journalists listening to them on April 24 when they announced this dramatic thing were stunned. When they said that they will have their first launch into space in 24 months, the guys just broke into applause, because you needed a timeline.
We’ve been speaking about mining in space for about three decades and NASA has actually developed a lot of equipment to mine in space, but to actually get up there is going to be a different story. These guys were saying that they are finished with the talk.
They are backed by Larry Page of Google, which is one of the investors, James Cameron the film maker is one of the investors.
Eric Anderson and his co-partner have all taken people into space. These are all people who are very familiar with space flights. They want to send telescopes in initially just like miners go out and prospect they are going to send five telescopes up in the next two years, the timeline is pretty soon.
The big thing, of course, will be to actually mine those asteroids. Its all very well looking at them and seeing what’s on them and choosing the ones that you know have got metals and minerals, but then to actually mine up there without people, which is what they are going to do, they are going to use robots.
They say that they could fail and obviously they could, but even if they develop all this technology I think it will help a lot of other industries, because a lot of people will be interested to see what they see up there and will also be interested to get some of those telescopes. If they do advance in the robotics area then perhaps we could use those robots to mine at our deep level. So perhaps something will come out of it.
We hope that they don’t mess up the platinum market, because all they spoke about was platinum at $1 500 an ounce being the thing to get. Its only $ 1 500 an ounce because its rare, we don’t want everyone to have it, so they must watch out.
Gwala: Lets only hope that the technology that will come out of this will help us as we mine platinum.
Yet another African country is auctioning its mining riches rather than giving them away on a first come, first served basis.
Creamer: Mozambique now decided to actually call in bids for some of its very valuable coking coal. We have been watching Mozambique in the Tete province and we have been comparing it to Queensland in Australia.
When you go to Queensland and you ask them where does all the wealth come from, they say that it is the coking coal from the Bowen Basin. What they’ve found in Mozambique is similar to the Bowen Basin, very rich coking coal.
We’ve seen some of the big names go in there and spend billions of dollars just to get assets. Smaller miners have actually done all the hard yards and then the bigger ones have come in and paid billions of dollars. Rio Tinto was one of them and Vale of Brazil is another.
Now the Mozambique government has said that they know what is in the ground now, now is the time to auction. Now is the time to get some of those billions up front ourselves to eradicate some of our own poverty. Mozambique is planning now this year to call for bids. We saw Liberia did the same thing, auction some of the areas that they know, get some top dollar out of it.
I see that Susan Shabangu our own Minister is toying with this idea of auctioning, particularly where there are lapsed mineral rights and revoked mineral rights or where you know there is a lot of value in the ground. You’ve got data, why not call for a round of auctions and get the highest bidder in rather then on the first-come first-served situation like that, where they known riches are there.
Gwala: South African defence products are attracting the attention of another South American country, this time Chile.
Creamer: Chile is suddenly interested in our surface-to-air missiles.
We’ve seen the Brazilian Navy actually working with South Africa on the development of a new range of surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft missiles, where we seem to have a robust niche. Suddenly Chile is saying that they like what we’ve got on offer here. We know that the Finnish Navy is using our product.
The Finns are using the ones supplied by Denel, which is a surface-to-air missile. Our own South African Navy, of course, is using the surface-to-air missiles. The Chileans will be content, I think, to use what we’ve got.
The Brazilians are looking a bit further at what we call the Umkhonto-R, which is a long-range radar-guided missile, which South Africa and Brazil are developing together. I’m sure that there will be quite a lot of demand for that once they actually make sure that it turns from a development into an actual product.
Gwala: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly, he’ll be back with us at the same time next week.