The Minerals Council has called for an advocacy group to be set up in the coal sector to highlight its value to the South African economy as an industry and employer of 220 000 people across the coal value chain, says the council's senior economist, Bongani Motsa.
“As an industry we need to organise ourselves and form a strong coal advocacy group,” Motsa told the fifteenth annual Southern African Coal Conference during a special session on the new Integrated Resource Plan 2019 (IRP 2019).
He said South Africa had not invested sufficiently in clean coal technologies, which make it easier for government "to succumb to the renewables lobby". However, he said an advocacy group needed to show that clean coal technologies were available and working.
He said the IRP had been "unkind to coal mining" and that reducing coal consumption would have massive implications.
“Eskom reducing its coal consumption is a death knell for the South African coal industry. Eskom provides an anchor customer for some key coal producers who can then export.”
Motsa said the coal industry contributed R134-billion to the South African economy, but that IRP 2019 threatened to unravel this.
“The IRP disregarded that we have been loyal to this industry since the dawn of industrialization. The gazetted IRP is as if divorce papers have been served on this industry. Unless we take drastic action, coal is dead.”
Director of the Fossil Fuel Foundation, Rosemary Falcon, said coal was the highest mining income earner by far, beating gold and platinum by a long way. Aside from this, she said 90% of cement production used coal and had a myriad other uses.
“The benefits are undisputable, while as a baseload, there is nothing to beat it.”
Falcon said there were various ways to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions within coal production, including emerging technologies.
“Efficiency gains using today’s technology can cut CO2 emissions by up to 33%.”
Effectively designed boilers would go a long way. “This would lead to high reliability and low emissions. It also requires no washing of the coal.”
Professor Falcon, who recently retired as SARCHi Professor and Head of the Clean Coal Research Group at the University of the Witwatersrand, said there were opportunities to use coal and its emissions in exciting, valuable and new ways.
This included new carbon products from coal and emissions, including high-strength, lightweight carbon fibres, carbon composites used in batteries and carbon electrodes for silicon manufacture, aluminium and arc furnaces.
An exciting new development being looked into in South Africa is carbon nanotubes, which would be obtained from Eskom coal-fired power station flue gas. This could be a $2-billion market in new strong materials, said Falcon.
Rare earth elements (REE) are also obtained from coal ash. Falcon said these were needed in all high-end engineering and used in sectors ranging from aerospace and automotives to magnets, energy storage and ceramics.
Currently produced products from coal include pharmaceuticals, insecticides, varnish, rayon, nylon, paints and plastic.
“By adopting clean coal technologies and producing high value products from both coal and its emissions, SA can ensure the sustainable use of the country’s coal resources and provide low to zero carbon and greenhouse gas emissions in the country’s future 'just transition',” said Falcon.