Every Friday, SAfm’s radio anchor Sakina Kamwendo speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:
Kamwendo: The imminent opening in Johannesburg of the exciting new Mandela Mining Precinct is a major boost for badly needed research and development.
Creamer: This is incredible. A fantastic name for research and development in mining. They have managed to get the right to call it the Mandela Mining Precinct in Carlow Road. It is really a coming together of the State and private sector in a way that we have never seen before, with tremendous energy and foresight and a good strategy.
They realised that the burning bridge at the moment are gold mines and platinum mines. Unless something is done about them they are just going to fall down a cliff. So, the research has got short-term, medium-term and long-term parts. The short-term parts are to save those jobs in the gold and platinum industry and to make sure that those particular mines, which are often deep and dark and sometimes very dangerous, are changed. But, our big challenges are three fold in South Africa.
We have got very hard rock, 220 megapascals, most other mining companies don’t come near that anywhere in the world. We have got very narrow reefs, that means that the orebody where all the value is, is not even as high as the table I’m sitting at. We have also got that depth. These are huge problems that have to be solved, but there is also a magnificent reward if they can research and develop solutions, because all the mines in the world are going to depth. We are the only ones at the great depth of 4km and probably heading for much more.
They haven’t experienced anything like that. If we can crack the code at this level it will mean that we will be able to give the research and development throughout the world. At the same time that this research is taking place, the supply chain is being developed, which is very clever, in that the equipment and all the services around what is needed to achieve your aim of mining at great depth in such difficult circumstances, those are all solved simultaneously.
So, already we can see a whole lot of tests being done on mines for new equipment and the equipment association, a lot of South African equipment manufacturers are now in on that. They form part of what is called Memsa and they are working with the researchers and developers.
Kamwendo: This month’s rapid-fire announcements of the widespread new use of fuel cells globally is great news for South Africa’s struggling platinum mining industry.
Creamer: It is almost a fuel cell frenzy. We can see particularly in the United States there has just been announcements left right and centre, but also in the far east in Korea and Japan. We see that Hyundai has just launched its new Nexo fuel cell car in South Korea. Then, Honda has come through with this 2018 Clarity and the pre-orders for that have exceeded all expectations.
You have got the Korean company Doosan, which also has operations in the United States under the name Doosan Fuel Cells America. They have just cut the ribbon on three big fuel cells at the Waterbury Pollution Control Authority in Connecticut. These fuel cells are going to work, not in a mobile form like cars, but in a stationary effort to provide power.
Then you have got other American companies all getting themselves fuel cell names, like Fuel Cell Energy has announced an agreement to sell megawatt power to a water treatment plant in California. Amazon, the famous internet book giant, they have just contracted a company to give them fuel cell forklifts at all their warehouses. So, you will have that silence and cleanliness and they will be working with that. Also, in California we see the 33rd hydrogen fueling station open. They are really open for business and these positive deployments of platinum-catalysed fuel cells in the US follows strides in Japan, German and China to bring hydrogen fuel cells into service and protect the environment.
It is coming at a time when there will be a massive big forum in Washington in June and just ahead of that there will also be interfacing with the US Department of Energy. It is interesting to see how the Americans get the politicians involved. They get them to all these particular meeting points so they can put across the value of these fuel cells.
In South Africa, of course, we have developed the stationary fuel cell, it producers power at a refinery of Springs of Impala Platinum company. That is being supported by a grant from the Department of Trade and Industry. We also see a forklift which is fueled by a fuel cell at the refinery out in Springs. We know that they are pushing hard to get mining equipment also developed and powered by fuel cells. We noticed that Anglo American Platinum has announced a fuel cell dozer which is expected to make a game changing debut underground next year. A lot of effort going into fuel cell development and all of a sudden it is bursting out in different directions, which should be very good for our platinum industry.
Kamwendo: Blockbuster mining developer Ivanhoe Mines of Canada has reached an important new milestone in the development of a promising new platinum mine in Limpopo province.
Creamer: This is Robert Friedland. When we are depressed about platinum, he always talks about platinum’s new dawn. He has got this fantastic operation developing in Limpopo in the northern part of the Bushveld Complex, the platreef area.
It is very rich and it is not deep. It is such a different approach that we are having at this Ivanhoe that it has now reached this great milestone and hit the 750 metre depth level below surface, which is quite a critical depth for this mine. As we can see it is not at all really comparable with the very deep mines that we have got there. It will probably only go to about 1 200 metres below surface.
This 750 metre station will allow access to a lot of activities that are going to be needed to actually spread out and reach the reef there. But, an incredible approach by Ivanhoe and already they have taken on our former South African President Kgaleme Motlanthe, who has joined that board. They are also big promoters of platinum around the world and they are the once that have been announcing over and over that this is going to be the way we power our cars in the future.
The way we power our homes in the future. It is going to be fuel cell driven, because there is just no environmental baggage at all, it comes so clean, it is what the world needs in terms of environmental protection at the moment.
Kamwendo: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly.