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: South Africa’s State-owned Industrial Development Corporation is investing billions of rands in the platinum industry. Tell us about that.
Creamer: The IDC which has a R100+ on its balance sheet is going headlong into platinum and its looking all the way down the value chain.
So it is about time something like this happened. They put R3,2-billion initially to get 16% of Newco, which is a new platinum company led by one of our few thought leaders still in the business, Brian Gilbertson, who wants to turn platinum to more positive account through the beneficiation route. Now we have been talking about this ad nauseam, but to actually do it is another story. They quoted TE Lawrence of course, about dreams when they launched this, because it is a dream.
TE Lawrence makes the point that when your normal dream takes place and your eyes are closed its normally hollow. But, if you dream while your eyes are wide open and you add reality to it, something can happen. So, that is what they are hoping will happen. They are talking Silicon Valley idea for platinum. A sort of Platinum Valley, as it were, in that you not only produce the concentrate and then refine in the way we’ve been doing, but you introduce a whole new paradigm.
This new paradigm is called Kell technology. I must say it does sound very promising, because it only uses about a fifth of the energy of smelting. Beneficiation is always hamstrung because you haven’t got the electricity. If they can actually bring in this, and they are quite positive about Kell, its come through a long process and again it shows you how research, which took place ten years ago at Mintek and how they thought about it and the Mintek people have come through as entrepreneurs, with this new technology how valuable it can be. The third stage of the kell process is a refining process, so its all in liquid form it is not in the solid form.
You can actually, onsite, refine your metal and then you can take that liquid and move it into other possibilities, autocatalysts, which we know are made down in Port Elizabeth, but there is all sorts of ways of how they have to get their platinum. Even fuel cells and we can remember at the COP17 how Anglo American CEO Cynthia Carroll said that hundreds of thousands of jobs can be created if we take advantage of this open window to manufacture fuel cells in South Africa and get clean energy from that as well.
They are thinking very wisely, the IDC is the money bags behind this, but you can see that Newco, which comes out of the Pallinghurst stable with Brian Gilbertson and Arne Frandsen, are also backed by some very big players. If you see some of the shareholders there its not only IDC coming as a sovereign funder, Tamasek of Singapore, also a sovereign fund, very much in this. You see the Algemene Pension Groep of Netherlands, a State-backed fund coming in as well. Important players there.
Gwala: Because there is value that's why players are going in there.
Creamer: And we have got 87% of the known platinum reserves, so why not turn them to proper account.
Gwala: Should have done that a long time ago, some my argue.
The Department of Trade and Industry is going all out to boost South Africa’s struggling manufacturing sector. Here is another one.
Creamer: There is concern about manufacturing. We know that during the 2009 recession we lost 200 000 manufacturing jobs and that was about 20% of the million jobs we lost.
So, the Department of Trade and Industry is moving very fast now to make sure that manufacturers can stay competitive by dangling a R5,8-billion carrot towards them saying that they can give them an incentive to make sure that during these downturn periods, you don’t just turn into a cash cow, you don't sweat your assets, you don't start retrenching people and then eventually close your doors because you are no longer competitive.
Let’s make you competitive even though some of your trading partners in Europe might not be buying as much as they used to and there is a bit of a recessionary condition. Let’s have our proactive action now, so that we do for you, across a broad spectrum, what we did for the clothing and textiles industry with the clothing and textiles competiveness programme.
They are now introducing the bigger one, the Manufacturing Competitive Enhancement Programme. But we see that 200-plus companies are still supported by the clothing and textiles competiveness programme and that is keeping 48 000 people employed.
There seems to be a determination to keep manufacturing jobs now. You can lose another 100 000 or more jobs if you don’t take proper action. They believe that by next month, they will make this money available as a manufacturing incentive to make sure that our manufacturing footprint doesn’t shrink anymore.
Gwala: Indian and South African companies have joined forces to generate clean Southern African electricity.
Creamer: These are private sectors companies. We have been born with Eskom, State-owned, we don’t know private sectors involvement in electricity.
There has been a lot of talk about private sector involvement, opening the door, now we see a real example, of this through Cennergi. Behind Cennergi, is the black-controlled Exxaro and we know that Sipho Nkosi, who leads Exxaro, has been talking about going into clean energy for a long time and into privately generated energy. He has got himself a good partner, which is Tata of India, a very big company.
If you look at how successful Tata has been in India as a private sector company, because India’s electricity is also more or less State-led, but they’ve come into the private sector and they’ve already got seven-million customers and 3 000 km of transmission infrastructure. They are an integrated private power producer. We can see this new Cennergi, which is coming through with Exxaro and Tata, are looking primarily at renewable energy, clean energy.
Exxaro comes out of a coal-mining background and we normally associate coal with dirty energy, so they’ve still got to clean up their act. In the meantime he is coming in now with this new thrust and the big emphasis will be on renewables and they’ve already bid on solar and wind plants. They are not just looking in South Africa, its regional, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana. They've got quite an ambitious target of 16 000 MW by 2025.
That, in today’s terms, will make it about the third of the size of Eskom. It is quite ambitious we would like to see them do that. In the meantime they will be working in partnership with the likes of Eskom and the other State enterprises, but they want to move into the private space that has now been opened up so that you can have private generators, probably not all putting up transmission lines they will obviously also use the grid, but you have to have a special legal deal for that and its called “wheeling”. Exxaro have been talking about “wheeling” electricity for a long time and now we see them coming through with Cennergi.
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.