Every Friday morning, SAfm's AMLive's radio anchor Caesar Molebatsi speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday's At the Coalface transcript:
Molebatsi: It's that time again on a Friday when AMLive presents another, and I must say the 682nd episode of Update from the Coalface with Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly.
Welcome, Martin, for the 682nd time. A Russian company has swooped on a promising new South African iron-making technology.
Creamer: Yes, we've had a mountain of magnetite, which is iron bearing, in the Limpopo province, at Phalaborwa, and for decades we've been trying to find a way to turn this to positive account. A very small company has come up with a solution, by accident, and they've discovered a new ‘iron'.
They are going to turn this, through a very special technology that they've developed, into briquettes, which can be used for iron making. The Russians have been quick to spot the value of this and Severstal, the Russian steel-making and mining company, sent technical specialists out here to dissect this and to see how valuable it was because it's seen as a Holy Grail of the steel industry, it's searching for this technology and they've discovered that the South Africans have stumbled upon it and it actually works.
So they have immediately bought it, they've invested so far about R100-million into this technology and the South African company, which is an unknown or little-known company, Iron Mineral Beneficiation Services, will do everything within the South African context and the Russians will take it abroad. Severstal will take this technology abroad. But they want it to become operational as fast as possible, so they're going to set up a pilot plant.
Their partners are the Industrial Development Corporation who are coming in with them, and also Palabora Mining itself, which is part of the big Rio Tinto Group, and they will make use of some of this mountain of waste that we've had. So it'll be both an environmental benefit and also the fact that we are able to get a briquetted product that can produce steel. You put it into electric arc furnaces. That price is pretty good at the moment.
Molebatsi: Action has begun, finally, on the development of a new solar park in sunny Upington.
Creamer: Yes, Uptington has got the sunshine. They say most days it can produce 8 kW/m2 and this is attracted the attention of the Clinton Climate Initiative and it's one of the fastest projects I've seen. People are not only talking about it, but they say that the first commercial transactions are likely to take place in the first half of next year and that they possibly will roll out R150-billion worth of solar park here.
A lot of people are beginning to ask whether it shouldn't be a solar corridor, because they want to go beyond the park idea and maybe create a corridor between Upington and De Aar, which would be about 19 000 ha of land. We know that where the Department of Energy is looking to site this solar park is pretty close to where Eskom already wants to build a solar tower, as they call it.
That was a moderate 100 MW and this will be 1 000 MW to start with, and going to 5 000 MW. So we're talking about something as big, as a big coal-fired power station, like Medupi or Kusile. This is big stuff and, of course, everybody is working fast on it because it has this advantage of being climate-friendly and you can get funding, and people are coming through already wanting to offer technology.
So at the moment, it's technology neutral, we don't whether it'll be the solar tower or the other trough forms of concentrated solar power, that's not important. The big thing is to get energy from the sun, which is in such abundance in Upington.
Molebatsi: I understand, also, that they're not actually restricting in terms of just one technology, that they are actually asking across the spectrum, whoever is in solar to come into this park, and it's R150-billion.
Creamer: R150-billion eventually. Obviously that won't roll out at that level immediately, but this is the vision.
Molebatsi: Well, two mining companies have succeeded in turning polluted mine water into drinking water that is being bought by a local municipality.
Creamer: This is a fantastic story. We've got problems with mine water. People are anxious here in Johannesburg about this acid mine drainage and you can see, with technology, you can turn this to big advantage.
Now, two big companies, Anglo Coal and BHP Billiton have done this, and we've seen them do this in the Witbank area, the eMalahleni council, and the council is very happy about this because they've been drawing beyond their quota from the Witbank dam, because, as we know, in the last 50 years, the population of the world may have doubled but water consumption has quadrupled because people are getting wealthier and they use more water.
And so we have this situation where these two mining companies have polluted the water, but they've got together to put R300-million into a reclamation plant and they've turned that water, when they do the tests, it's more pure than tap water. It's even an advantage on what we're used to and they're able to sell that onto the local authority.
They're saying that in time, this is already at virtual break even point it will wash its own face in time, it could become a commercial proposition and Optimum Coal now has also got a similar plant feeding Steve Tshwete municipality in the Mpumalanga area, and they are keen to migrate this ultrafiltration system to other areas, like we've got the problems here of acid mine drainage in Johannesburg.
Molebatsi: What about the costs of this? Are they not prohibitive?
Creamer: Well, you can see that the R300-million investment of Anglo Coal and BHP Billiton is already at break even point and already starting to say that this will wash its own face, so that is a tremendous turnaround, and Optimum Coal, I think theirs cost a little bit more at R600-million and that's 15-million litres of water a day whereas the other one is 20-million litres of water a day but we can see that it's a proposition, strategic but also commercial.
Molebatsi: Martin, thank you very much indeed. That is Martin Creamer who is publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly, he'll be back with us At the Coalface, for the 683rd time, at the same time next Friday.