It’s that time again on a Friday when SAFM presents another Update From The Coal-Face with Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly.
Sakina Kamwendo: South Africa must ensure that it gains more from its great treasure chest of minerals.
Martin Creamer: Yes, we’ve got fantastic minerals. Particularly, manganese. We’ve got the highest quality in the world and we have 80% of the supply, but we’re getting a mere pittance from this patrimony. This is because the price has absolutely collapsed and we’re still supplying.
This is because of all sorts of factors, one of them being a take-or-pay arrangement that the mines have with Transnet, where they have to just keep using the rail whether it is pay or non-pay. And I think that new marketing arrangements should be introduced to ensure that we don’t give away the family silver the way we’re doing at the moment.
I think they need to relook at how they market things like manganese, where we’ve got such a big supply. Now, we know that there’s a kindred metal there called iron-ore – although that’s also hit by downturns and cycles that collapse but you also see that they support that price because of clever marketing.
We need to approach manganese marketing in a different way, and in the way that iron-ore is doing it to make sure that we don’t lose our boots when downturns hit manganese – which is one of our treasure chests.
Sakina Kamwendo: A fuel cell car this week attracted world attention by setting a new distance record.
Martin Creamer: Yes, we always want fuel cell cars that are hydrogen driven because then the word ‘platinum’ pops up. Platinum, which South Africa hosts, is used in these and often we get the electric vehicles story that is not going to help South Africa, the battery electric vehicle.
We want the fuel cell electric vehicle and that’s why this is great news that it outdoes the battery electric vehicle in distance, setting a new record and going well beyond the 700 km mark.
In fact, it could have gone into 800 km easily as it went through France and it was driven by great celebrity, Bertrand Piccard, who is like the Jules Verne character of the day. He’s been around the world in a solar plane and now he’s going around in an emission-free car.
This is zero-carbon emission, and that is what the world is looking for at the moment. Fortunately, vehicles like this one, which has been put through by the South Koreans, it’s a Hyundai – this did not emit a single bit of carbon and that’s why the people are so happy. It’s also got the distance that we can normally travel when we use petrol vehicles.
Sakina Kamwendo: Producing metals without emitting climate-damaging carbon dioxide is gaining ground very rapidly.
Martin Creamer: And I think that South Africa should take cognisance of this because we’ve still got a lot of our energy coming from coal-fired power stations. The world is now looking at that askew, they don’t want to buy products that come through carbon-emitting situations and we see that, in Canada, they’ve really led the way now by producing a zero-carbon aluminium.
We also produce aluminium here but even a couple of years back, people were starting to resist us because they’re saying that what we produce in KwaZulu-Natal is based on coal-fired electricity and not clean, decarbonised electricity, and some of them were saying “No, we’ll rather get our aluminium from Mozal Aluminium, in Mozambique, because that uses hydropower and that is clean and we want clean aluminium”.
So, we can see the world is demanding zero-carbon products, including zero-carbon aluminium, and Rio Tinto – one of the mining companies – have gone in there and given the market what it wants: a zero-carbon aluminium and we see that one of their big customers coming forward immediately, Apple.
Now, we all use Apples, and we all use these mobile phones, and Apple doesn’t want to be accused one day of not having a product that has zero-carbon emissions. And so, they have put an order in for this zero-carbon aluminium.
Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. He’ll be back At The Coal-Face at the same time next Friday.