Zambia’s largest integrated copper producer, Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), owned by global conglomerate Vedanta Resources, has launched the first project of its kind in Zambia to rehabilitate a mining site.
The project, launched earlier this month, aims to cultivate elite pongamia pinnata trees for biodiesel production at a mining waste site.
At an event held in Chingola, on the Copperbelt, Zambian Minister of Works and Supply Matthew Nkhuwa planted the pongamia trees on a 4 ha site at a tailings dump. These will be part of a pilot programme to determine the viability of producing biodiesel from the trees.
The project has the potential to create at least 500 jobs in agroforestry, farming, bioenergy processing and energy service delivery. The full commercial project is targeted for 650 ha of land, with 400 000 trees to be planted at an estimated cost of $7-million.
“Government is spending [significant] amounts of money to import fuel . . . every month. With projects such as this, the burden on government will be lighter and resources may be channelled to other areas for holistic development,” Nkhuwa noted.
KCM CEO Steven Din said at the same event that the project attested to KCM’s commitment to invest in clean energy and best-in-breed environmental practices as an integral part of the KCM vision for sustainable development.
Din pointed out that the trees planted would revegetate a disused dump site, absorb impurities and provide nitrogen for the soil, improving its fertility, while local employment would also be created.
The mining industry in Zambia is one of the largest energy users. With Zambia expecting growth from multiple sectors, there are forecasts for increased demands for energy.
KCM is working in partnership with environmental and social enterprise Better World Energy to deliver the project, which is designed to fertilise the bare land, which KCM currently cannot use for agricultural purposes. The project will also provide a cost-effective and environmental-friendly source of energy for KCM.
Better World Energy, through the assistance of the Energy and Environment Partnership (EEP) Southern and East Africa, became the first company to establish a nursery of the elite pongamia pinnata trees in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the EEP’s website.
Pongamia is regarded as an ‘ideal’ plant for recovering a variety of waste burdens, such as saline soil reclamation. The plant restores soil to life as the nitrogen and carbon feed rich soil microbial communities, enabling other plants to grow on previously dead soil.
Almost all parts of the pongamia tree can be used productively – in addition to the production of biodiesel for energy, the seed cake can be used to make briquettes for cooking and cattle feed (after the removal of toxins), while the slurry can be used as a fertiliser. As the tree is naturally repulsive to animals, biopesticides can also be made from it.