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Mar 13, 2009

13/03/2009 (On-The-Air)

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Every Friday morning, SAfm’s AMLive’s radio anchor Tsepiso Makwetla speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:

Makwetla: A South African company is investing hundreds of million of rands into the expansion of the port of Maputo in Mozambique.

Creamer: Yes, it is interesting to see how the private sector is becoming involved in ports. We South Africans are used to the State running ports, mainly Durban, Cape Town and the others, although the Richards Bay Coal Terminal is private.

We see Grindrod, which is listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange ploughing R334-million into the Port of Maputo in general, but the Matola Coal Terminal in particular and taking that to 6-million tons and then immediately announcing plans for another 10-million tons.

So, it will go to 16-million and that is all being driven by this private sector company, Grindrod. Why is it doing that? Because of the demand for the capacity at these ports. Who is coming up and snapping up a lot of that capacity from under the noses of somnambulant South Africans, but an Australian company called Coal of Africa.

They have already taken up 13-million tons of those 16-million tons. While South Africans are still battling to get their coal through the Port of Richards Bay. It is not because the port of Richards Bay doesn’t have the capacity, but it is the rail capacity that is a problem.

And even with the Port of Maputo it is going to have problems unless the rail capacity is increased. That is why Grindrod has formed a private-sector rail company, RRL Grindrod, which will get involved in rail.

Because, unless South Africans can actually lift this rail capacity, we are going to lose opportunity during the upturn and greater coal demand, as we saw during the last upturn. The Indians are even wanting our lower-grade coal.

We can see the Indians putting up power stations on the coast of India, therefore they are going to import the coal. It is a tremendous opportunity and we need to rise to this opportunity and particularly with rail we need to eliminate the constraints.

Makwetla: Speaking of opportunities, South Africa’s State-owned Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) remains committed to new projects despite the global financial meltdown.

Creamer: The IDC is State-owned and, of course, both government and the private sector will start leaning on it, during this tough time, for credit support. One would imagine that the IDC would then be pulling in its horns on new projects and its committed expenditure.

It says that it won’t do this and is still committed to dispersing something like R60-billion over the next five years on new projects. From April 1, it starts its new financial year and it is going to roll out as much as R10-billion in that financial year and that is on top of the R9-billion that it spent in the last financial year.

So, we still see quite a lot of activity from the IDC and looking particularly now, quite acutely at energy opportunity. Energy in relation to private-sector entry, we see the independent power producers and when you see IPP it is the arrival of the private-sector into what has been a State operation in South Africa.

Now the IDC is looking to joint venture with some of these activities and we are expecting an announcement between the IDC and the IPP in Kwazulu-Natal particularly. Also, it is going to depend a lot on what happens with the feed-in tariffs and the National Regulator has still got to decide on what they are going to pay these IPPs.

The IDC also quite active and looking at green possibilities, renewable energy and sees opportunity there for some of its new projects.

Makwetla: South Africa is investing R80-million in the advanced science of nanotechnology in order to make sure that the country retains a research edge.

Creamer: That’s right. It is important for South Africa to keep abreast. We have already formed a joint activity in nanotechnology with the Indians and Brazilians and they have already got this high resolution electron microscope that we are wanting to buy now and have it installed in 2011.

You can see how important it is, if we are going to keep abreast of the rest of the world. This nanotechnology is now essential if you want to do proper research and development.

Backing South Africa here, the Science and Technology Department is wanting to invest this R80-million in this high-resolution transmission electron microscope which will enable companies like Sasol and Element Six, which is De Beers, to do specialised research.

For the first time, with this particular electron microscope, South Africans will be able to see atoms in South Africa. We have never been able to see atoms before. We won’t be seeing the electrons and neutrons, but we will for the first time see the sphere of the atom.

So, we are talking here about nanotechnology, the study of the very very tiny and the world is moving in that direction. We are talking about things 1 000 times smaller then the width of an average human hair. This is what this big new electron microscope will do.

It will be positioned in the Eastern Cape at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, but it will be supported by the private sector, who will then use that for their research and development and therefore they don’t have to go outside the country to do it and then share this intellectual property with others.

So, a very important development, to keep abreast of the rest of the world, if we don’t do this, we fall behind.

Makwetla: 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.

Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter
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