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: Researchers this week made a strong call to mining companies to stop sending people into deep underground mines and to use remote machinery instead.
Creamer: This is a tremendous sentiment coming from the Mandela Mining Precinct. We had a total collapse of research and development and innovation in mining, but all of a sudden it is back with great vigour. We saw a lot of researchers and supply chain people come together at Nasrec this week.
They expressed strong sentiment that digging deep mines has become so dangerous that it is better not to send to ultra-deep risk and to use technology to mine remotely and have remote machines doing this job. Because they are talking now with a background of research, development and innovation, they can talk with credibility. So, we can start listening to a potential change of extracting valuable metals and minerals. But then what happens to the jobs?
That is what great consciousness was sounded amongst these researchers to say that people who are backward integrated into machinery that does the job, but particularly those of the Scandinavian countries, have found that this is jobs neutral. You don’t lose jobs, you actually enhance the job position and you get people into service areas as well. They were speaking how services areas have become so important. Unless you get the backing of those service areas, you don’t succeed.
Also, servicing at project house level, because you have got to get the project houses behind the equipment that you manufacture, otherwise you won’t get them financed. Banks are very risk averse, but if you bring in new equipment you have got to convince the banks that it can do the job. So, they are working holistically in trying to backwardly integrate and make mines safer, but also more profitable.
Kamwendo: South African manganese is helping fuel cells to be more affordable, which will be a big boost for platinum.
Creamer: Every day now you hear more about hydrogen fuel cells. When you see hydrogen fuel cells, you know that platinum has got to be used. If platinum is going to be used, it helps our situation in South Africa, because we are the biggest hosts of platinum group metals in the world.
We are finding now that manganese, which we also host in high-quality quantities in the Northern Cape, is coming to the rescue of fuel cells and that is bringing them down the cost curve. This was announced by Lancaster University, where researchers there have said that these manganese sieves and manganese hydride material can bring the fuel cell down the cost curve. It could mean that they will really be more competitive then the electric vehicles.
We find that battery electric vehicles are on the lips of most people at the moment around the world, but at the car level. Where the fuel cell comes in is with trucks, busses, trains, trams and ships and once you have got the infrastructure for the heavier vehicles that will mean that the car fuel cell will be a cinch, because it will be economic to actually make sure that they can refuel and that will be great for our metals and minerals in South Africa.
Kamwendo: A greater sense of purpose is emerging for South Africans to act together to grow our economy inclusively so that it generates jobs.
Creamer: Everywhere you go now, no matter what sector you are talking about, there is enthusiasm. South Africa is poised to start reaping some of the benefits of renewal that began last year. People are talking enthusiastically and wanting to be involved in the economy. They want it in an inclusive economy, they know it has got to be inclusive.
It cannot be a jobless growth, because we have got this great interest in actually creating employment at many levels, but particularly at youth level. You see people now working in all areas and one of the low hanging fruit areas that constantly comes up is the tourism aspect. If we can actually bring tourists into the country in greater quantities, we might need to change our visa system particularly.
They are talking about electronic visa facilities for foreign visitors and trying to do things specially to get more people into township areas and also into rural areas of great promise. A lot of enthusiasm out there, people wanting to put their shoulder to the wheel and make sure we grow this economy inclusively and provide jobs.
Kamwendo: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly