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May 27, 2011

27/05/2011 (On-The-Air)

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

De Gouveia: In a sweeping new anti-crime move, police plan to microdot household items in two million South African homes in the next year. Tell us a bit about that.

Creamer: Yes, you know microdots, we’ve seen them on cars, in fact, they will become compulsory on cars from July 1.

All new cars coming through will be microdotted and we see how valuable that is because even when they blew up a car recently they could still find these microdots, because they put about 10 000 of them in 88 different places on these cars.

They are smaller then a pinhead, you can’t see them with the naked eye and you need a scope to actually pick them up. It is all about lowering the risk to reward ratio and putting more risk into these things. Now they want to extend this also into household items.

We see Business Against Crime and the police wanting to role this out quite ambitiously. They are talking about two million homes in one year, of course, I would like to see that target being met, because the people also have to cooperate.

They have to actually buy these microdots. You buy about 3 000 of them for about R400 and you can put them your prize possessions you might want to put it on your TV-set or sound system and then you register them on a computer as yours.

You get an identification number and the police have access to this. If there are stolen items they can check, because once it is stolen from you, you then record it on the database, they go through that and they can return it to you.

The big problem with the cars, of course, is that the thieves have been stealing these cars and given them new identities. They take away the vehicle identification numbers, file off the engine and chassis number and its got a new identity.

If the Police do recover those and they recover about 12 000 stolen vehicles a year, they don’t know who the owner is. So, we have 12 000 cars destroyed a year and its costing us R1-billion. Hopefully this data dot will also increase the risk for house robberies if police are able to role this out and I believe they are going to use a lot of youth to help them in this campaign, also backed by Business Against Crime.

De Gouveia: In terms of the vehicles where it is going to be compulsory, will that be done at manufacturer level or will the consumer have to ensure that the microdots are placed on?

Creamer: The Gazetting notice as I understand it is that new cars coming through at factory level will have these dots on and it will be compulsory for them to do that.

De Gouveia: International interest is being shown in a new South African rail-fault technology.

Creamer: On our heavy duty lines, and we have got two dedicated lines. We have a coal line going down to Richards Bay and an iron-ore line going down to Sishen.

A derailment on those lines cost a fortune and we’ve seen a lot of derailments on the coal and lesser so on the iron-ore line, but last year we had a derailment on the iron-ore line at a time when the iron-ore price was sky high and we lost out.

What Transnet and the CSIR and also the Institute for Maritime Technology have been doing is they have been studying up a new device to do this in a better way, because we knew these old ‘tapiologists’ of the past having to tap the rails, is a labour intensive time consuming operation to work out where the faults are in the rails. They said let’s work out a new system and do it remotely. They are going to attach a device to the rail vibrate it and over a distance it gives off ultrasonic messages.

If it’s normal, you don’t get an alarm. The moment there is an abnormal situation, an alarm goes off and you can now go and repair this. Instead of having to spend all that time trying to find out where the faults are, now the fault bounces out at you and you can obviously get more time to do the reparation job.

Of course, this has caught the ears and eyes of the international community and already there have been requests coming through from Canada, New York subway and also Hong Kong where tests have been done and more tests are underway now in Japan. People wanting to use this because it is a problem world wide.

De Gouveia: Is this technology currently being used in South Africa?

Creamer: Currently being used in South Africa and it is actually assisted with two potential derailments that would have taken place. These lines are long train lines and they are very heavy haulage, there is a lot of fatigue and you can’t pick it up in the rail early during the manufacturing process, so this has already paid its way.

De Gouveia: Do you think this would in future also be used along passenger rail?

Creamer: I think it should, because we had this terrible passenger situation recently. Obviously that wasn’t a rail break, it was excessive speed, but this can also be used as is being tried in New York.

De Gouveia: Interesting news coming through from Namibia. Apparently they plan to convert their destructive encroacher bush into electricity. Sounds very interesting.

Creamer: You have got this encroacher bush in Namibia. It’s devastating. It actually spreads the desert, undermines agriculture, the farmers hate it.

The tender that has just come out now and people must respond to this tender by June 10 with proposals is to cut this bush down, convert it into woodchips, feed it into a gasifier plant and produce electricity. One cement plant is already doing this in Namibia and gets nearly a third of its electricity already from this encroacher bush. They want to kill many birds with one stone.

The idea is to remove the encroacher bush, you first set-up your gasifier plant, a farmer might do this, a farmer will become an entrepreneur he will turn into a independent power producer. He sets up these little gasifier plants, and they’ve already had pilot plants that have shown that it can work.

They then remove the encroacher bush around this plant. That is not the end of the story, because you have jobs, because people will have to remove that. You also have a higher skilled job of people who feed these wood-chips into the plant. But, in ten years time that bush will come back, so it is a renewable energy source.

They are hoping a little ambitiously, because there is a bit of a water issue, to cool these down you need water, and the are not well known for water. I suppose if you use the brackish underground water you can also get salt maybe as a by-product and a few other things that you can get out this.

So they are hoping that they can get up to 20% of their electricity from this renewable source and they know that they need to generate their own electricity. They can’t rely on their neighbours as they have in the past. They want an early response, June 10, they want the bids in to see what they can do with the encroacher bush.

De Gouveia: Especially before winter, maybe they should have a bit of a chat with Eskom, as well with regards to this, maybe South Africa can also benefit in some way given the high demands on Eskom.

Creamer: This is Eskom’s equivalent in Namibia, NamPower. They are leading the show.

De Gouveia: 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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