The current level of diamond production from areas such as Orapa, Letlhakane and Jwaneng, in Botswana, cannot be sustained much beyond 2025, says principal geologist and director of Gaborone-based geological and mine consultancy Analytika Holdings Alan Golding.
This is a growing realisation in the country and will have a negative impact on the gross domestic product (GDP), he says, adding that this has prompted government to diversify its economy.
“This will not only mean the expan- sion and encouragement of nondiamond mineral production, but also the expansion of the industrial and agricultural base,” he says.
Golding notes that the first step in diversifying the minerals industry would be the development of the large coal resources in the country, predominantly in the east.
“Thus far, exploration companies have declared 60-billion tons of resources in the measured, indicated, inferred and exploration-target categories, while government’s recently completed coal roadmap has set a target of 60-million tons a year as an export target.
“In addition, the success and developments in base metals exploration in the west of Botswana, including mining company Discovery Metals’ Boseto copper mine, are providing additional momentum,” he states.
Other recent finds include those by diamond, base and precious metals exploration company Tsodilo Resources on its Xaudum magnetite banded iron formation iron-ore and base metals discoveries in north west Botswana. This formation hosts Katangan aged sedimentary rocks similar to those in the Central African copperbelt which Golding says were previously unknown, except to locals who were using the iron-ore for the gravelling of roads.
“To some extent, these recent finds reconfirm that Botswana is not an easy exploration target and that it is underexplored, but that the minerals industry can, however, also meet the challenge of diversification,” says Golding.
He notes that a diverse resource-base potential is available, but to meet the challenge of replacing the high-value diamond exports with lower-value base and ferrous metals, as well as coal exports, will require significant additional invest- ment into infrastructure and the development of a large number of new mines.
Golding says this will stretch Botswana’s existing human resource and skills base.
“These mine and infrastructure developments will provide a welcome boost for the construction and manufacturing industry. In the long term, they will also produce the desired diversification and reduce the overdependence of the country’s internal industries on government-funded infrastructure development to produce a balance between private-sector and government projects,” he states.
The consumption of these resources will be constrained by Botswana’s small population of about 1.9-million and the small industrial base in the country, adds Golding.
“Therefore, it is likely that this expan- sion will result in significant exports of raw materials; but to reduce the impact of transport costs on these commodities from this landlocked country, it would be highly desirable to beneficiate and add value to the raw materials close to the source,” he says.
Golding says that, although Botswana’s coal resources are substantial, production from the country’s only coal mine at Morupule is being expanded to an estimated 3.2-million tons a year, which is predominantly used for internal consumption at the mine mouth power station.
Further, Golding states that small amounts of coal are exported from the country by road to African countries such as Namibia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe.
“To meet government’s declared target of 60-million tons a year, the country will require a quantum leap in its production and infrastructure, but there are several projects and deposits that can kick-start this drive, if the other factors are aligned.
“One example is the Mmamabula East Morupule expansion project, which is at an advanced stage of assessment. Exploration over the last seven years has confirmed that significant tonnages are available in the known areas and resources have also been located in areas which were previously considered as speculative,” he says.
However, Golding adds that there is a long-standing perception that Botswana’s coal is of a poor quality. “South Africa has a large export market for coal and is the benchmark to which Botswana must aspire to compete on the world market.
“Comparisons between the washed coal from Botswana and the Richards Bay grades of RB1 indicate that this is not necessarily true of all the coalfields in Botswana. Grade comparisons indicate that coal from the central area either meets or exceeds the specifications,” he says.
Meanwhile, the possible shortfall in supply of power-station coal for South Africa’s State-owned power utility Eskom, variously estimated at between 60-million tons a year and 120-million tons a year by 2015, could provide a substantial ready market for Botswana’s coal.
“South Africa’s coal exports are based on obtaining RB1- or RB2-quality coal after beneficiation, with a yield of between 60% and 80%. The middling’s from this process are then sold to Eskom for power generation,” he explains, adding that this is the system Botswana will have to buy into if it plans to export coal.
In a presentation he compiled for the IHS-Mc Closky Coal conference, held in Cape Town in January 3013, Golding assessed coal grades in different areas of the country.
The findings indicate that coal from the northern carbonaceous facies is not export quality, but is suited to power stations and coal gasification gas-to-liquids feed.
Coal from the central carbonaceous facies is also suited to power stations and can be beneficiated for export to some locations, with a calorific value of 27- million joules (MJ) at 60% yield. Golding notes that, currently, no coking values have been identified, but this coal can meet RB1 and RB2 specifications.
Coal from the southern sand facies is suited to power stations and can be beneficiated for export quality in the Mmamabula area to give a calorific value of 25 MJ at 60% yield.
“Base metal deposits worked by exploration and mining companies, such as Tati Nickel, African Copper and Discovery Metals, have proved to be of sufficient grade to compete in the export market and future discoveries are likely to be of a similar grade range.
“Iron-ore deposits are not fully assessed as yet, but initial results are encouraging,” states Golding.
He notes that the most significant challenge with the diversification and expansion of Botswana’s nondiamond mineral industry is getting the products to market.
“The country’s current rail network to any port is limited to two-million tons a year, which has undergone an expansion test run. While this could provide a toe hold for the initial ramp-up of the industry, it falls far short of government’s target of 60-million tons a year,” Golding concludes.