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Nov 25, 2011

25/11/2011 (On-The-Air)

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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: Hopes of generating massive amounts of clean electricity from Central Africa are being rekindled.

Creamer: You know the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has the Congo River and the Inga site. This is the most prolific hydroelectric power site in the world. There is nothing to touch it. I mean we could easily get out of Inga as much power as we are getting out of Eskom at the moment, from the ‘Grand Inga’ site, but it would be clean.

This is hydropower so you wouldn’t have the carbon element and, of course, it has also got to be affordable and that is going to be the trick. Because of COP 17 where they will be talking about climate change within the United Nations framework in Durban starting on Monday, they have shaken the dust off this whole plan of ‘Grand Inga’ again.

Our own Minister of Energy Dipuo Peters has gone up to Lubumbashi together with President Jacob Zuma and President Joseph Kabila of the DRC and they have signed a new memorandum of understanding for ‘Grand Inga’. This Inga they have been talking about since the Sixties. It is a magnificent possibility to create clean electricity for Africa and even Southern Europe.

There is just such a huge potential, 39 000 MW and beyond. They are even talking about 50 000 MW from this flowing river. In parts of it this river flows so vigorously that you don’t even need to build a dam wall, you can put the turbines in the water and you can get your power generated.

Gwala: If they have been talking about this since the sixties what has stopped them from proceeding with the plan?

Creamer: The biggest thing is country risk. You know, the DRC is seen as high risk and this is going to be high capital. There is also a need for agreements around the country.

We had Wescor, which South Africa did with Namibia and a lot of other Southern African countries, to create the transmission network in the meantime, because it is going to need enormous transmission carrying all that power down through Africa to the south, north and which ever way you want to go. We even abandoned that, because there was a complaint about inclusivity.

They seem to have remoulded the model now with this new memorandum of understanding and it seems that there is a new focus on it ahead of COP 17. I just hope that they can get moving from the paper work to concrete.

Gwala: Talking about COP 17. South Africans need to recycle more as part of our response to combating climate change.

Creamer: COP 17 starting Monday. There is going to be heady discussions, intellectual discussions all about how to mitigate climate change and carbon footprints, carbon capture and storage and all that sort of intellectual stuff. But, what about on the ground, what can we do at a micro level? People are saying that manufacturers need to come in to play now.

To be encouraged or even forced to make products that can be repaired, reused, refilled. Look at a mine these days when you go, before you can dig in that ground you have got to give the governments of the world financial guarantees, which the governments hold that you will rehabilitate that.

You will fix it once your done. But what do manufactures around the world do? They have got no obligations, they flood the market with products that end up on waste dumps and nobody does anything about it. That is a huge rehabilitation cost to municipalities.

People are saying now particularly with COP 17 environment that we should start formulating some micro-activity that can lead to better climate change mitigation and go into remanufacturing, which is a process that you disassemble, clean, repair and reuse former used products in new products. The only way we see it now is in the automotive industry. For some time now there has been a remanufacture of petrol and diesel engines for light commercial and passenger vehicles.

Other than that, there has been no sort of obligation besides the automotive industry of getting away from this throw-away society that we have, which a fortune ends up on the dumps and someone else’s responsibility. We have got vast quantities of plastic and I’m talking about not just the recycling end of it.

You must repair, reuse, refill and reuse again before you start the recycling, that must be at the end of the line. This is something, as we head for COP 17, that I think can be encouraged at government level and at micro-level where there are corporations involved, but it will need some sort of stimulation or enforcement.

Gwala: The Russian company Renova is keen to invest more in South Africa.

Creamer: Renova, we don’t know much about it, but it is a quite a big Russian company. It is one of the top ten private oil producers and one of the biggest aluminium producers in the world, headed by Victor Vekselberg. It has been dipping its toe in investment in South Africa. It has begun with mining manganese in the Kalahari, where it has done very well with a black-empowerment partner Magestic Silver Trading, which has actually got control of the mine.

Renova being wise in taking 49%, but it gets that flow of manganese for its Transalloys smelter. It is also smelting the manganese. We have been doing it in the Mpumalanga area for many years, but the Russians have taken over this. It used to be owned by Anglo American through Highveld Steel.

Then Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea Football Club, he then bought Highveld Steel in Mpumalanga and one of the peripheral items was Transalloys then along came Victor Vekselberg and he bought that Transalloys, which falls under the Renova umbrella. Now we see Renova wanting to do much more at Transalloys, even building a sinter plant.

They are also saying that to smelt in South Africa you need energy, so they want to possibly start generating electricity as an independent power producer, but in a very clean way, solar power, because they want to do it in the Kalahari. They are also the owners of a Swiss company that manufactures thin-film solar panels.

They want to put all that together and try and get enough electricity for themselves at their smelter, but also feed it into the Eskom grid as an IPP. Then, why they are looking at sintering, is to try and mitigate their logistics costs, because they are finding that they might have to put a million metric tons of manganese on to trucks, because they can’t get it on to rail this year.

o mitigate that they want to add value through the sintering plant possibility at Transalloys in Mpumalanga, but at the same time they are offering through the South African Russian Business Council some sort of interface between our Transnet and the State-owned Russian railways there. Perhaps they can do something together to augment the heavy haul line they want to build to Coega or any other line that assists with manganese transport in which Renova, the Russian company wants to increase its involvement in South Africa.

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.

Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter

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