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Jan 14, 2011

14-01-2011 (On-The-Air)

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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: Well, listen to this, Wits University has achieved a great breakthrough – it is able to turn garbage into electricity and also petrol and diesel, at a profit.

Creamer: And also creates jobs. So we have got three impacts there. It is a good employer, it gets rid of our municipal waste and also it generates power or if you want diesel or petrol. It is incredible how we have developed our Fischer-Tropsch (FT) know-how.

You know, FT was this German technology and Sasol got hold of it and they have really done well with it throughout the world. Now, Wits has really gone into this with fine detail and wants to use the FT process to actually convert garbage into electricity and also convert that garbage, if needed, into diesel and petrol.

That is remarkable, because the diesel that they get is also low-sulphur so we have got that green benefit there. We have got the green benefit by the garbage as well. Joburg alone produces 4 000 tons of garbage a day.

What they are stating with is a 100 ton a day plant that will be capable of producing about 4 MW of electricity and in 30 minutes they can switch that to produce either diesel or transport fuels.

Molebatsi: How long have they been at this, I mean there must have been a lot of research, as well as investment.

Creamer: A lot of research, of course, it comes against the background of Sasol’s progress and the fact that the Chinese also asked them to research this several years ago.

So, they are coming through with components that are known to be commercial, but they are putting these together in modular form. They won’t use the normal waste dumps that we see that are existing, because those are normally earmarked for methane gas. You drill down into those and get the methane gas.

It will be fresh garbage coming in that they want to make use of. Investors have already come forward for this pilot plant and they are thinking of firming up for more investments this year.

Molebatsi: Patrice Motsepe must have been watching and listening, because his company is taking steps to generate its own electricity at metal smelters in Machadodorp and Cato Ridge.

Creamer: Assmang have got a ferrochrome and ferromanganese smelter at Machadodorp and also a ferromanganese smelter at Cato Ridge. Like most other big corporates and big industrial companies looking to generate their own electricity. They have gone forward with expressions of interest.

People are coming forward now with proposals to actually convert to co-generate electricity starting at Machadodorp, starting moderately and then moving to Cato Ridge. So 20 MW to start with using that furnace heat that goes to waste and it has gone to waste all other the place co-generating 20 MW.

We know that Eskom is looking everywhere for every megawatt they can get, because in the next two years we are in a tight period before Medupi comes in and then Kusile, the big power stations to rescue us. Eskom are insisting that they have a reserve of 2 000 MW all the time.

So they have already received assistance from Sasol, Sappi and other bigger industrial companies which are coming in with about 300 MW that they can put into the system. It is so intense that Eskom is even approaching shopping malls, because the shopping malls have got their own standby generator sets and they are asking them to come into this buy-in programme that they’ve got.

Of course, that will cost quite a lot of money, but we know that the open-cycle gas-turbines in the Cape that are diesel based cost about R2 800 per MW hour. So it is quite expensive when you resort to that, but it is not as expensive as a black-out.

Molebatsi: And we need this energy to be able to fuel our economy anyway.

Creamer: Exactly.

Molebatsi: The new State mining company is in coal offtake talks with Eskom. Finally happening.

Creamer: More energy. You know, the Cabinet cut loose as an autonomous body African Exploration Mining and Finance Corporation. That is the State mining company. It is already working on its first mine and has its first mining license, so the coal mine at Vlakfontein should be officially opened this year.

Then they are also working on a second coal mining license in the Bethel area. We see it is very energy related. Coal at the moment, we see with the Australian floods, the price is going up and we need to create stability in coal. Eskom is saying that they are getting deteriorating qualities and they need to renegotiate their coal deal.

Now they have got a kindred spirit in the form of a State mining company that they can talk to. They will be getting this offtake agreement settled soon with African Exploration Mining and Finance Corporation, which seems to be focussing solely on energy at the moment.

They have also got prospecting rights for uranium, which is of course an energy commodity in the Springbok Flats. They are looking for prospecting rights in the Northern Cape. Interestingly it is also going for rare-earths outside of the country, it is studying possibilities and opportunities in Mozambique and Zimbabwe and swinging back to Limpopo looking for lithium.

So, very much energy related and the argument is that many of our politicians go out and many of our corporations go out in to the world and they go and do roadshows with mining companies around the world and the mining companies say ‘energy, are you going to have it?”

When Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu sits there she has to be able to say yes. So, to have an underpin from the State mining company is also important.

Molebatsi: 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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