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: A rebirth of gold mining is on the cards thanks to new world-first South African technology.
Creamer: South Africa has been working for two years now on new technology and it is to mine at deep level. We know that our competitors mine 365 days a year, we lose about 100 days and they also mine 24 hours a day and we only do it about 10 hours a day, so we lose about 14 hours a day.
With this new technology going deep they are going to get rid of blasting techniques and replace it with boring techniques. They have already carried out and exercise which proves that technically they get the tick for this.
They can actually take out the gold and only the gold, so you get the full grammage there and they then backfill it with harder-than-concrete backfill.
So, Mother Nature doesn’t even know that the gold is pulled out. There is going to be no blasting. The blasting causes a lot of the problem and a lot of the danger and makes people very vulnerable and shakes up the seismicity.
This below 5 km they could be mining using an automated, peopleless technique. The boost for South Africa is going to be huge, because this is really rock-around-the-clock. You are getting gold out 24 hours a day 365 days a year. We know what gold did to this economy and we are sitting in the Golden City.
This is almost possibly Golden City times two, with even greater efficiency, potentially, because you are now doing it in such an automated way, not even in a mechanised way.
They are going to leap beyond mechanisation to automation. You get the big grammage of the gold, because you don’t get what they call dilution.
When you get people into the stopes, and these stopes may be only 50 cm of gold, you’ve got to create a wider entrance so that the people can get in. Then you have got to take all that non-gold out.
So you might have 20 grams a ton, but it goes down to much less then that, because of all the other rock that you have to bring out. Potentially this is a rebirth for our gold industry.
Gwala: How far is the process Martin?
Creamer: The process has been going for two years now. They are looking at actually selectively mining in this way in 2014, which is not a long way away. Then maybe going over to it completely by 2017. We are talking about AngloGold Ashanti, they are the pioneers in doing this.
Gwala: South Africa and Lesotho have signed a new treaty that has far-reaching water and electricity implications.
Creamer: We get this fantastic crystal clear water on the Lesotho Highlands, the Mountain Kingdom, coming cascading down into our Vaal River here.
This is what we drink and we’ve had the first Lesotho Highlands Scheme, the Phase One A, Phase One B, that was completed ten years ago. Now there is a new agreement for a second phase where we will get more water from the Mountain Kingdom.
We know that they have got a lot of water and in some areas of that mountain area they get 1 000 millimetres of rainfall. If you look at the actual dam situation at the moment about 150 cubic metres water is available from Lesotho. The Lesotho people only need 2 cubic metres of water.
So they have got 75 times more to spare. By buying it, the South Africans help to sustain their economy and, of course, by receiving it we sustain our economy, particularly here in Gauteng. Now we are going into the second phase of that.
The South African Cabinet has already agreed to this new treaty. Parliament needs to ratify it, but we can see that it is on the march, because from August – next month – the provisional programme for the design starts to roll-out phase two.
By November the tenders start going out for the construction over a three-year period. Till 2015 the contracts will be awarded. Then the construction from July 2014 to March 2020 and then this new lot of water from August 2020.
That is the plan and they might throw in quite a lot of electricity as well. We know that there was an electricity element in the last phases, but an even bigger one this time. They are looking at possibly 1 200 MW of very clean power, because it is hydropower from the water.
Lesotho will only need about 200 MW, so that means another 1 000 MW in a pumped storage scheme for us so that it can come down when we really need that electricity during the peaks.
Gwala: Tshwane this week became the fifth South Africa city to construct a bus rapid system.
Creamer: That’s right, we have had the Rea Vea in Johannesburg and it was met with a lot of opposition. We’ve had the one in Port Elizabeth where they actually threw in the towel because the taxis resisted to such an extent that even though they started construction of a rapid-bus system in Port Elizabeth, they gave up on it.
We’ve got the one in Cape Town, the MyCiti, which seems to be quite operative.
Coming out of it now is Tshwane, very late, they should’ve done it in 2010 already, but this Wednesday they came through starting the construction and they should be starting operation from April 2014. One of the dark horses is Rustenburg.
Rustenburg is now planning their own bus-rapid transport system. It will probably be a little bit different, because being a mining town, they need a lot of night activity, whereas a lot of the services we see here are more around the day.
Of course, we find that BRT is still sub-optimal. People still love their cars and there is still resistance from competitors and it still hasn’t really been integrated yet.
One of the good things about it is that they are not giving up on this public service that actually we can see it as something that also helps to sustain the economy, because it gets people to the right place on time.
Joburg particularly has been pretty dogged against a lot of opposition and we see that possibly the best thing these guys will be able to do is to recover a lot of their costs. It doesn’t seem to be a huge profit centre yet, but Joburg particular is seen as a model and Tshwane is following that model.
They also negotiated with the taxi industry and we see that there are benefits, because the taxi industry can become involved in this new mode of transport and they can become part of the operation. So, where it has been successful in Joburg, they are trying to repeat that in Pretoria.
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.