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: The local manufacture of platinum-using fuel cells is now a reality, with the first batch successfully commercialised.
Creamer: The last four years we have been talking about fuel cells. The first batch now has gone to Vodacom. These are fuel cells that back up some of the mobile phone system. There is 18 fuel cells going out and this in no mean feat.
I think credit must go to the Department of Science and Technology who has been championing this along with the private sector. If you work together with them and I’m talking about Anglo American Platinum and the company they formed Altergy and also clean energy.
This is the particular company concerned here now, because when we look at platinum we must remember that this is a provider of clean energy that platinum plays the catalytic role in this process.
The first 18 of these have gone out and its an amazing achievement, being used by Vodacom. Again, it is an idea of getting more out of our platinum. We know that platinum in the past has been a boom-and-bust industry. It used to be buffered by the gold because they had to close their mines in Rustenburg in the old days because of poor marketing and those workers would go over to gold because there was normally another shaft being sunk.
That doesn’t happen these days. So we have got to look for new markets and these initiatives like the one that has been introduced by the Department of Science and Technology is starting to bear fruit. It is also an important thing because we are a resource-rich country and therefore we normally have currency problems and you don’t want currency problems because you’ve also got a manufacturing set up where you want to export.
This is a sort of thing the localisation and the beneficiation is what can give us the answer to what people call the resource curse. We want a resource blessing. I think Africa is starting to realise, particularly from the likes of Nigeria, who discovered oil in 1970 and then proceeded to concentrate on the oil and forget about its cocoa and peanut agricultural businesses.
Those might have been better employers of labour, but they have been knocked out of the scene by oil. We don’t want that in South Africa, we want this balance and I think the way is to come in with added-value products like fuel cells. They are fantastic and they could end as the power stations in our kitchen. We could have a thing the size of our washing machine that would be our power station.
Its clean and the only by product is water and it could drive the engines of our cars. So, massive potential and we need to really accelerate.
Gwala: A pilot plant for the local beneficiation of titanium is to be built at the CSIR.
Creamer: Again, we are the second largest producers of titanium ore but we add little value to it. Championing this is the Department of Science and Technology coming in with the Department of Trade and Industry saying that we can do more with this. Already you see the CSIR coming in on the act and finding a novel way of producing the metal from the ore, which could give us a comparative advantage.
Now they are setting up this pilot plant so it is all near-term stuff that is happening and not pie in the sky in the distance. We want to get into this titanium metal powder market, which gives you so much more value when you export it. Again a situation of make sure you look at the potential markets for these and see how we can fit in.
Titanium goes into aerospace, into satellites, because of its light weight, high-tech futuristic products and we can do so much more with it. The idea is that you mustn’t just have this pilot plant, it must go into a commercial plant and a new industry. That must be the ambitious thinking that we have. Resource-rich country here so let’s make sure that we get full value out of our resources.
Gwala: ‘Shared value’ is a concept being openly propagated along the corridors of mining power in the aftermath of the Marikana tragedy.
Creamer: This is what we are hearing now, we have heard a lot about nationalisation and we’ve heard a lot about free enterprise, but now coming through the middle, a third way, that is shared value, and not just looking on corporate social investment as a peripheral activity in your business.
No, taking shared value into the centre of your boardroom and saying that we must reconnect the role of business and that is to create a better way for society. How do we get that holistic approach? When you do that and this is a study done by Michael Porter, a Harvard University professor, who is propagating this idea of shared value, and I must say it is sweeping through like a fire.
Peoples’ thinking is that this is the way to go in South Africa now. We know that the new generation of young people are asking business to step up. There is no entity like business that can step up.
There is nothing else in the world that can really step up. And if business now takes on this new mantra of businesses acting like the most powerful force they are, they can reconnect with society. One of the great examples and what is expected out of this is a new wave of innovation and productivity.
When you involve a bigger base you are going to get more out of this. This is the belief and the thinking of people who want to reconnect business success and social success. Of course, in this is the question of education. we have got minimally educated miners. This can not continue, you can’t allow minimally educated people to operate expensive equipment.
We know we are moving towards a new era in mining. Now is the time to think along the shared value lines to float all boats and not just huge bonuses for the top people and much less for those below. Let’s get everybody into the picture and put them in the centre of the boardroom and lets work for everyone here and hope that everyone will come to the party as well.
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.