Every Friday, SAfm’s radio anchor Sakina Kamwendo speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News & Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:
Kamwendo: South Africa must use the upcoming COP26 to promote platinum’s role in fighting climate change.
Creamer: This is the United Nations organised event, the Conference of the Parties. We had it here 10 years ago. We hosted it in Durban. We did try and push the platinum group metals (PGMs) at that stage, but it was really only one company that did so and that was Anglo American – and Kgalema Mothlante was there. He was the President at the time and they showed him how the platinum fuel cells work and also they did as much as they could to impress the international community.
Now, 10-years later everything has changed, with all countries now taking climate change very seriously and climate change mitigation being the planet’s main pursuit. This means that right now is really the time to promote our PGMs has intensely as possible, because those are key to actually mitigating climate change. The COP26 this year takes place in Glasgow, Scotland, and a lot of pre-publicity is already out. Countries are paying for pre-publicity. We see the High Commissioner of the UK spending a lot of money on full page ads and webinars and trying to get the message across that the time is now to actually get ahead with climate change mitigation. We know that the private-sector of South Africa and the government of South Africa would do very well if they actually presented very strongly in November at the COP26, in Glasgow.
Kamwendo: Clearing South Africa’s massive exploration backlog will be a huge boost for the economy.
Creamer: Can you imagine having 5 000 applications for exploration in a pile and can you imagine getting through that pile and getting the exploration going. The sort of activity that it would cause in South Africa would be immense. We have got a backlog of 5 000 applications for exploration at the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy. We have also got 230 applications for mining rights.
The boost to the economy of just clearing those two backlogs would be enormous. All the political parties would be in agreement that this must go ahead, because it is just a question of efficiency not politics. The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy has got so many regional offices, with some regional offices more busy than the others, and I think they should try not only to cooperate with each other, but bring in outside help to clear the backlog, even if they outsource it.
The private-sector would be willing to come in with all sorts of assistance in order to get these applications going and get the backlog knocked aside. Then later, we can actually start talking, possibly, about policy. Sometimes the policy discussion holds everything up and you have different political parties coming in with different things, but no party is going to object to the backlog being absolutely eliminated and that would create an enormous spark for our economy at the moment.
Kamwendo: In generating 750 MW of power, the ferrochrome industry will help to solve our energy crisis.
Creamer: Can you imagine that. One industry prepared to generate 750 MW of its own power to use by itself. I don’t think there has been any sector of industry in South Africa that has come up with that sort of figure and they are saying that they are prepared to do it by 2024.
Ferrochrome is a very important industry. Our chrome ore is very important, but because the industry has stuttered, our chrome ore is going out to China unbeneficiated and China is getting all the advantage of the added-value that we used to get. We have lost a lot of market share to China. A huge effort is going in now to try and ensure that not all that chrome goes out, but that it starts receiving added-value treatment again in South Africa, so that it can be exported as high-value ferrochrome rather than as chrome ore.
The problem is that we have closed so many ferrochrome smelters because of the high electricity price and now the main to protagonists that are left are prepared to generate 750 MW of their own electricity. All they are looking for is certainty from the government and Eskom, because they would need access to the national electricity grid and Eskom needs to give prices as to what it is going to cost this industry to put the electricity back on that grid when they have got excess electricity. This is also a great advantage to us especially since we sometimes still have these loadshedding problems. You need much more self-generation, especially this will be largely renewable energy, sun energy and wind energy, that will be generated.
The ferrochrome industry is already engaged in the cogeneration of electricity, which involves using some of the waste gases that come out of their smelters that they turn into electricity, which is again a positive when it comes to climate change mitigation and environmental protection. What they are looking for now is certainty from Eskom and certainty from the government and then they will put their foot on the accelerator and go ahead with 750 MW of additional power, which we really need to have generated into the economy at the moment.
Kamwendo: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News & Mining Weekly.