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Platinum major expands renewable energy roll-out

TSAKANI MTHOMBENI In 2022 Implats committed to a five-year, R50-billion capital investment programme to extend the life-of-mine at several of its operations

INVESTING IN ENERGY SECURITY Implats’ initial large-scale project towards meeting its short-term 2030 decarbonisation target of a 30% reduction is well underway at Zimplats through the construction of a $37-million, 35 MW solar plant at the Selous Metallurgical Complex in Zimbabwe

25th August 2023

By: Bridget Lepere

Creamer Media Reporter

     

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Zimbabwe-based platinum group metals (PGMs) producer Zimplats, a subsidiary of PGMs major Impala Platinum, is midway through the construction of a $37-million, 35 MW solar plant at its Selous metallurgical complex, about 77 km north of Zimplats’ underground operations in Ngezi.

The 35 MW facility – expected to be commissioned in the second quarter of the 2024 financial year – is the first phase of a proposed broader 185 MW energy complex, which will secure electricity supply and reduce the unit cost of energy at the Ngezi mining facility.

The project is the first large-scale undertaking towards meeting Implats’ short-term 2030 decarbonisation target of a 30% reduction against the 2019 baseline, in line with its ambition of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, says Implats sustainable development executive Dr Tsakani Mthombeni.

Implats has also committed to having at least 30% of energy sourced from renewable resources at new mines and to ensuring that all mining operations have a renewable energy source by 2025, consequently ensuring the progressive increases of its renewable energy mix to 73% by 2030.

“Zimplats currently sources 50% of its energy from regional hydroelectric facilities and this proportion will grow during the financial year of 2024, once the first phase of the solar programme starts supplementing the grid,” he adds.

Implats is also assessing an opportunity for a coal-to-gas combined heat and power solution, and a 1.5 kW hydrogen fuel cell is being tested under realistic load conditions at Implats refineries in South Africa as the operation already has grey hydrogen piped to site.

In South Africa, feasibility studies are under way to construct solar photovoltaic facilities to advance energy security and improve the carbon footprint at Implats’ Rustenburg operation with a 140 MW system, and at the Marula operation with a 30 MW system.

These studies are running parallel to Implats’ programme to procure wheeled renewable electricity for all its South African operations.

Mthombeni adds that energy wheeling will address on-site constraints at Impala Rustenburg and Impala Refineries, with the latter undertaking conceptual studies for a combined heat and power project to eliminate coal use.

Implats committed to a five-year, R50-billion capital investment programme in 2022 to extend the life-of-mine (LoM) at several of its operations to increase beneficiation capacity, ensure regulatory compliance, strengthen energy security, and progress the Group towards achieving its decarbonisation targets, he states.

In line with this, R15-billion has been earmarked to expand Implats’ South African and Zimbabwean smelting and refining facilities, with about R8-billion being invested across managed and joint venture Southern African mining operations to extend LoM at producing mines.

These efforts also contribute to securing meaningful employment and entrenching Southern Africa’s status as a stable and sustainable global PGMs-producing region, as well as to supporting enduring benefits for all stakeholders.

Meanwhile, Zimplats’ board has approved capital expenditure of $521-million for the expansion of existing smelter capacity and the installation of sulphur dioxide (SO₂) abatement technology to mitigate air quality impacts, says Mthombeni.

Together with the phased solar projects, the SO₂ abatement plant will result in an “industry-leading environmental footprint” for the Zimbabwean smelting facilities to produce an additional 600 000 oz/y of PGMs.

“The first matte production from the new 38 MW furnace is scheduled for the last quarter of the 2024 financial year, with commissioning of the acid plant expected in the second quarter of the 2024 financial year.”

While not part of Implats’ short-term decarbonisation plan, zero-carbon fuels and carbon offsets will play a role in the later stages of decarbonisation towards meeting carbon emissions neutrality as technology readiness improves, adds Mthombeni.

Implats also runs a concurrent rehabilitation programme to transition disturbed land into rehabilitated usable land by employing local companies to demolish and clear surface infrastructure and fill disused shafts with mined waste material.

The company aims to restore the land to its next usable state once the earmarked land has been confirmed as being ready for rehabilitation, he concludes.

Edited by Donna Slater
Features Deputy Editor and Chief Photographer

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