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Mar 28, 2008

On-The-Air (28/03/2008)

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On-The-Air (28/03/2008)
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Every Friday morning, SAfm’s AMLive’s radio anchor Jeremy Maggs speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:

Maggs: You say the South African government is budgeting to boost technical innovation by spending R500-million a year for the next five years. This is good news.

Creamer: Yes, what they are creating is the Technology Innovation Agency. This will be a new agency enshrined in law. It has gone through Parliament already and is expected to be signed into law by the State President in May. This will not be a research and development agency as such, but it will be an agency that funds research and development.

The idea is to bridge this gap between the ideas on the one hand and then turning them into commercial products on the other hand, which is a problem not only in South Africa, but worldwide. So, they are looking to start with a funding of R500-million in the first year.

It will be run by a CEO and people who are quite well versed in intellectual property. In the fifth year it could possibly go up to a R1-billion worth of funding. They say their ideal board composition will be made up of thirds. The first third being people who have actually gone out there as entrepreneurs and created a new product from ideas.

The next third will be people who are involved in more formal innovation from the CSIR, Mintek and institutions like that. A sixth of the board members will be involved in intellectual property type activities, and the final sixth of the board will be well versed in venture capital.

Maggs: Even more money flying about, South Korea has Southern Africa in its sights, setting out to spend R50-billion in the next eight years on mining and energy projects.

Creamer: A little bit of a Johnny Come Lately, South Korea, obviously following China and India, but realising that they have to get in on the mining and energy act in order to ensure the flow of product into the country. Korea relies to an extent of 97% on imported materials and energy.

They want to go out into the world now and invest R50-billion worth in mining and energy activities. They are looking to South Africa and also Zimbabwe and Zambia in order to do exploration. Korea will be searching for the usual suspects, like coal, copper, iron ore, uranium, nickel, zinc and other metals and minerals.

Chrome, of course, in Zimbabwe. They want to ensure that, in eight year’s time, when they bring in these metals and minerals into their country, they will be at a level of 38% from operations that they own. They say that they are not here to just rip Africa off.

They will ensure that they add value in the country. They are quite prepared to beneficiate to a large extent in the country before exporting out. Also, they say they will put in roads and power stations and infrastructure that Africa needs.

Maggs: Of course, can’t escape the energy crisis this morning. South Africa could treble its electricity capacity by switching to high-voltage direct current, that is according to an academic at the University of Kwazulu-Natal.

Creamer: Yes, the University of Kwazulu-Natal is taking direct current under its mantel. It has actually set up a high-voltage direct current centre at the University of Kwazulu-Natal. It is promoting greater use of high-voltage direct current as opposed to alternating current.

It argues that large amounts of power over long distance with lower capital cost and lower electricity losses can be gained from direct current. It is focussing in the Kwazulu-Natal area at the moment, looking at its own power corridor to see whether it can convert. Initial studies have indicated that it is feasible and they are talking about being able to treble the capacity of electricity flow in that area if they can do this conversion.

It has often also been said that, if we could have a direct current line from Mpumalanga, where our power stations are, down to Koeberg in the Cape, it would be tantamount to having an additional power station. That is how much more flow we could get.

There are problems, because you can’t tap off electricity on the way, but there are lower upkeep costs involved. Where Eskom’s research and innovation department is active on this, and also proving it is feasible, is in the big Western Corridor in Africa, where we look into the future to get some power from the great Grand Inga, which is the hydropower station concept in the Democratic Republic of Conga.

That is almost certainly to involve a high-voltage direct current, which is estimated to be able to treble the capacity over alternating current.

Maggs: 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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