Coal sector in SA will remain well into the future
13 March 2014 – Johannesburg: Global and domestic coal-fired energy needs will provide a long future for South Africa’s coal sector, but the sector must first overcome several challenges.
This emerged at a Coal Open Day, hosted by global consulting engineers and scientists SRK Consulting SA, at its Johannesburg offices last month, where various experts shared their insights on the prospects and challenges for coal.
Speaking at the open day, SRK Consulting principal coal geologist Lesley Jeffrey highlighted the challenge of decreasing coal quality. “South Africa’s good-quality coal deposits in the eMalahleni, Highveld and Ermelo areas have been mined out, and the resources currently targeted are often more geologically complex and expensive to mine.
“As a result of decreasing resources in these areas, the country hopes to substitute its overall coal production with coal from the Waterberg coalfield, in Limpopo.”
SRK principal engineer Andy McDonald cited insufficient logistics infrastructure as a further challenge facing the local coal sector at the open day.
“State-owned Transnet Freight Rail’s rail link to Richards Bay is not functioning optimally, which may hinder coal exports. The development of the Waterberg coalfield may also be problematic, as the capacity of the rail link between Lephalale, immediately east of the Waterberg coalfield in Limpopo, and Gauteng – which is expected to transport coal supplies to the power stations in eMalahleni – is not sufficient.”
McDonald said that unless this challenge was dealt with, the increase in production capacity would be meaningless as the rail link to market was already overloaded with existing coal haul operations.
Despite these challenges, he pointed out that the global demand for coal remained strong, particularly in countries like China and India.
“In China, where 70% of electricity generation is coal-fired, plans are afoot to almost double the energy output from the current levels of about 1 145 GW in 2012 to 2 000 GW by 2025. The country burns about 3.8-billion tons of coal each year,” McDonald said.
Demand in Africa was also high, as the continent needed a further 7 000 MW of electricity each year to keep up with its growth rate, he added.
Mining Weekly reported in February that new coal mines were urgently needed in South Africa, and infrastructure provision in the emerging Waterberg coalfield must start, if only to maintain status quo.
McDonald also noted that coal would remain the biggest source of electricity generation over the next 30 years and that State-owned power utility Eskom alone would need four-billion additional tons of coal, over and above what it had already burnt, despite the carbon emission regulations.
To meet this requirement, coal exploration in African countries had been ongoing, said Jeffrey. “The projects served by our Johannesburg office have been mainly in Southern Africa, particularly in South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique.
Meanwhile, the issue of water management facing coal mining was also discussed at the open day. SRK Consulting partner and principal hydrologist Peter Shepherd warned that South Africa’s water resources were under strain and that new mines could only be brought on stream if water requirements were met using innovative ways.
Shepherd was encouraged by the steps taken by mines to conserve water, but said the price of water could double in the next five years as a reflection of its real cost to society.
On the broader sustainability theme, SRK partner and principal sustainability consultant Donald Gibson welcomed the gradual acceptance of ‘shared value’ as a principle to underpin a more developmental role for mining.
The challenge, he said, was to better implement sustainability strategies in daily operations.
Gibson added that the carbon tax, to be introduced in 2016, would affect not only the coal sector but also many others.
Senior mining engineer Xolani Gumede also shared his insights on blast design and blast optimization that could reduce carbon emissions and mining costs.
About SRK Consulting
SRK Consulting is a leader in natural resource and development solutions, providing technical services through 50 offices in 22 countries, on six continents. With an African presence in Angola, and practices in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, the global group employs more than 1,700 staff in a range of engineering, scientific, environmental and social disciplines.
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