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: Welcome again, Martin. Now you say that the world’s biggest technology companies are collaborating to access 100-million ounces of gold at a depth to which humans have never, ever ventured before.
Creamer: You know, it’s very encouraging that AngloGold Ashanti, South Africa’s biggest gold mine, is not saying, “Because with conventional methods of mining we can’t get down to 5 km, we’re just going to leave that gold there.” They’re saying “No, there’s a 100-million ounces of gold resource down there, let’s put the world’s biggest brains together and let’s make sure we get down there, safely.”
And this is what’s happening behind the scenes now. Some of the world’s biggest engineering names, I’m talking about General Electric, of the US, DuPont, 3M, some 30 companies coming together, 80 participants already at two major workshops –they’re going to have another big one on February 14 and 15 – to make sure that we can unlock this gold treasure. And going down to those depths often means there are better grades. So it would be lunacy not to do it.
But, there’re going to be some big changes. And already they’re saying blasting is going to be a thing of the past. Blasting will be out, because blasting actually inhibits our activities. When you blast, people have got to get out of the mine. When they want to get back into the mine, there are still fumes there, and it creates seismicity, which leads to problems with safety. So they want to stop all blasting. They want to create people-less stopes. Now its those stopes that are the vulnerable areas. That is where the human being meets the rock face, that’s where there’s a lot of danger. They don’t want any people there. And what they’re so surprised about is that they can possibly get mining rock around the clock, remember that great song ‘Rock around the Clock’, this is what they’re looking for because currently we only get about nine hours of activity.
It’s going to change the face of mining, if they can clinch this and the people behind it are huge, they’re not going to fail.
Molebatsi: Are we talking about new technologies here, or just bringing different technologies, are we going to be seeing again the first of this kind of thing being done in the world?
Creamer: The beauty of this is that a lot of these technologies come off the shelf. It’s a matter of reapplying them, rethinking. They quickly eliminate things that are not going to work. They can do that with modern research. And so they’re quite surprised at the extent to which mechanical rock-cutting technology has advanced.
Molebatsi: Wow! Well, South Africa’s Northern Cape has been selected for a R100-million project to break the world land-speed record. What is this about?
Creamer: In winter, in the Northern Cape 2012, a team that already is involved with the world record – they set it 14 years ago in Black Rock, in Nevada – they want to reset it now, big time. It will be a 31% jump if they can do it, to go 1 000 miles/hour on land, that’s 1 600 km/h. But, they need the right venue and we’ve been blessed. The Northern Cape, where there were 35 sites on the short-list, and one would think “Well, they set the record in 1997, they went 1 220 km/h in Black Rock, in Nevada, you’d think they’d go back there.” But no, it’s too bumpy!
You’d think they’d maybe like Lake Eyre, in Australia, where a lot of this has happened, you’d think they’d even go back to Verneuk Pan, where, in 1929, Malcolm Campbell came out here to our Northern Cape and he failed to break the 370 km/h barrier at Verneek Pan. But instead, they’ve gone 400 km up to Hakskeen Pan and this could just put us on the map where they say it’s sufficiently flat and firm to consider setting the next land-speed record at 1 600 km/h using a horsepower which is equal to 180 Formula One racing cars. They’re looking to get from 0 km/h to 1 600 km/h in 42 seconds. This is faster than a bullet coming out of a Magnum.
And the Northern Cape could be the benefit.
Molebatsi: Why are they doing all this?
Creamer: It’s a R100-million project, it’s all related to the bad performance of British kids in maths, reading and science. They dropped to number 28 in the world. South Africa, of course, didn’t even take part, so I don’t know where we would have been, and who went to the top? China, South Korea, Singapore and Finland, so a lot of the Northern Cape schools, 50 Northern Cape schools, have now thrown their weight behind this and they will benefit from what comes out of this engineering adventure taking place in South Africa’s Northern Cape.
Molebatsi: Well, we’ll still benefit from Britain here. The last one here, a 100% black-owned flexible plastic packaging film producer is embarking a R500-million expansion programme to substitute imports.
Creamer: Exactly! We’re looking now at Caesar Molebatsi and he knows as much, if not more, about this than I know because though Caesar is an illustrious AM Live radio talk show host, there’s also a business side to Caesar with his Empowa Investments. And I can say, that this company now, with the name of Fima, has quite a lot of promise and we see that Caesar here, with his Empowa has got 62,5% of this and the rest is by a very impressive CEO, Patrick Munyembate, and they want to take this company to great heights. And it has South African significance. You know we’ve seen, Caesar, that our textile industry has tanked. It’s been badly damaged, we don’t want this to happen as well to our plastics sector. This is a very important part of the flexible plastic packaging film because if I can just draw your attention to the fact that this is a ubiquitous material.
Not only is it going to the big names like Nampak and Astrapak but it’s then converted into very attractive packaging and we see it every day on our shelves, by Simba and by Nestle and by ABI and all the rest, so this is an initiative here now by Fima to actually inject new life into what was an ailing sector and that’s bad because we’ve got the raw material coming in from Sasol and Safripol, we should put this to good use. Now there are two lines at Fima, and you know this well, Caesar, producing but only about a third of what is required in South Africa, with imports coming in on the two-thirds.
The story here is that Fima is going to put in a third production line which will be a commodity film plastic packaging film-making line with their eye not only on substituting all our imports that are coming in here, it’s only going to happen round about the first quarter of 2013, and in the meantime they will make use of the strong rand to import to get a bigger market share, but also looking at Africa where we see things happening in East Africa and look at Nigeria where the demand is huge.
Molebatsi: Well, Martin, thank you so much and, of course, we would like to be watching this space and hopefully we’ll do an update debate on just engineering and/or manufacturing sector breakthroughs in South Africa, that’ll make this country great. But again, that’s Martin Creamer who is the publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. He’ll be back At the Coalface at the same time next Friday.