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Sylvania marks important milestones on ESG journey

19th January 2024

By: Natasha Odendaal

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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Platinum group metals producer and developer Sylvania Platinum (Sylvania) has been advancing its various environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives since the publication of its inaugural ESG report in September 2022.

From water and energy management, health and safety and community initiatives to environmental and tailings dam management, the company is steadily improving its performance and has made significant headway over the past few years.

Sylvania is committed to responsible business practices across various aspects of its operations, says Sylvania Platinum CEO Jaco Prinsloo, noting that the group aligns its ESG reporting to global frameworks and industry best practices, including the Global Reporting Initiative, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board.

“We are very proud of what we have been able to achieve [in fulfilling our ESG responsibility],” he tells Engineering News & Mining Weekly, pointing to the work done by Sylvania in the past few years.

The ESG Report 2023, titled ‘Supporting Our Strategy’, for the year ended June 30, 2023, delves into Sylvania’s efforts in energy management, water stewardship, tailings management, diversity and empowerment, employee health and safety, training and development, community engagement, the integration of ESG into company processes, sustainability and growth, stakeholder engagement, and the economic contribution of the company to the economy.

Of particular significance, Prinsloo says, is the company’s health and safety initiatives, which enabled its Doornbosch operation to achieve 11 years of no lost-time injuries (LTIs) by June 2023.

“[One] of the most significant areas [of focus]. . . is the safety of our employees. We have a very strong safety performance. We have had only two LTIs during the period over six operations. The Doornbosch operation has achieved 11 years LTI free, which, by industry standards, is a significant achievement, and we have done very well,” he explains, adding that during the last quarter, the company was all-injury free across all its operations.

“Since the inception of the business more than 15 years ago, we have not had a single fatality across all six operations. From that point of view, certainly, we have a pretty good track record and focus,” Prinsloo tells Engineering News & Mining Weekly.

Much progress has also been made in water management, with several new initiatives relating to improved water management undertaken at the company’s operations over the past year, and a dynamic water balance developed for each plant.

“Our water balance and consumption is one of the areas we have been focusing on quite significantly last year,” he says.

“Recognising the challenges posed by water shortages, we have diligently explored various strategies to secure, manage, monitor and regulate water consumption.”

The company’s aim is to implement measures and initiatives that deliver a reduction in expected water use or water demand; the augmentation of water resource capacity or supply; enhancing efficiency in the operation, maintenance and management of infrastructure, including systems, pipes, valves, pumps, meters and related equipment; and minimising water loss or waste, while concurrently safeguarding and preserving water resources and promoting the judicious and effective use of water.

According to the company’s ESG report, its water initiatives span three phases, with the initial phase successfully completed in 2022 and the implementation of Phase 2 currently under way.

During the initial phase in the 2022 financial year, the focus was on evaluating the effectiveness of the water monitoring systems across all six Sylvania plants and determining deficiencies in monitoring information, monitoring devices, and water monitoring practices, as well as identifying areas of concern related to water losses and operational practices.

The first thing required was assessing and understanding where the gaps were – where water is consumed or lost – in the current system and implementing additional measures for proving the water balance and improving monitoring.

In the second phase during the 2023 financial year, new water management initiatives were introduced, including the development of an automated, real-time water balance system, with the strategic installation of flowmeters along critical lines to enhance the precision of water flow measurements and use monitoring within the operations.

“Additional flowmeters and collaborative efforts with host mines have enhanced water monitoring and sustainable use, including water recovery and recirculation.”

Further, Sylvania initiated a feasibility study, which will be completed by June this year, to explore the construction and use of thickeners to reduce water volume losses in the tailings.

In Phase 3, which is set to start in 2024, the primary focus will be on optimising the existing water management systems to proactively address controllable water losses stemming from factors such as unlined trenches, stormwater and return water dam losses.

Meanwhile, Sylvania’s tailings storage facility revegetation trial harnessed the potential of process water, showcasing its ability to support plant growth effectively.

Over the last three years, Sylvania has been investigating mixing topsoil with tailings, using growth stimulators and incorporating organic amendments with tailings.

According to the ESG report, the organic method showed the most promising results, leading to improvements in drainage, water holding capacity, nutrient levels, and overall plant cover.

While tailings dam management and rehabilitation is a significant focus from an ESG point of view, the safety of the dams is critical.

Compliance with the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (GISTM), in terms of the operations, condition and management across its operations was assessed, with positive findings, and the company has proactively engaged with consultants to perform a gap analysis with regard to the company’s tailings dams.

“We have instituted our first audit in terms of the GISTM.”

While the company is already aligned and complying with various South African tailings dam legislation and codes of practice, the GISTM takes it further to ensure that the company is a lot more proactive, Prinsloo comments.

Looking at community initiatives during the year under review, Sylvania continued its various training and development programmes.

Twenty-four local community members, 11 of whom were women, took part in last year’s training and development programme, with most absorbed into Sylvania’s workforce, while the company supported three ongoing internships and eight internal learnerships, and also maintained 12 external bursaries.

Meanwhile, as South Africa continues to face loadshedding and copper cable theft challenges, Sylvania’s production capabilities and electrical infrastructure remained largely operational with diesel generators.

While diesel generators may increase the carbon footprint of the company, their use underscores the importance of short-term energy alternatives in supporting South Africa’s capacity to combat climate change in the long term.

The group has short-term goals for sourcing energy to be implemented by 2025.

“We are actively investigating alternative options such as synthetic fuel/biodiesel for generators. We are continuously reviewing the energy efficiency of our current equipment and infrastructure, including the potential for converting to hybrid mining vehicles,” says Prinsloo.

Sylvania has undertaken a feasibility study into the installation of two generators, which will be operational during the first half of the 2024 financial year, at both the Lesedi and Millsell plants.

A desktop study was undertaken to investigate the possibility of installing photovoltaic (PV) panels on roof structures at all operations, and the company is in the process of completing a feasibility study for a 1 MW PV installation at the Lesedi plant, as well as re-evaluating the feasibility of deploying solar PV plants to augment the daily power requirements at Doornbosch and Tweefontein.

Further, Sylvania is undertaking a cost/ benefit analysis into mobile microgrid solar power generation, comprising battery storage, solar panels, and a shipping container with inverters, at Mooinooi and Lesedi.

The group is also in discussion with a local supplier and is investigating the possibility of converting its fleet of vehicles to hybrid models once these become available in South Africa.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

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