Ingenuity has become paramount to the survival of minerals processing industry suppliers amid the challenging economic climate, says South African furnace and kiln manufacturer Thermopower Furnaces South Africa (SA). The company has undertaken several projects aimed at deriving value from waste streams generated by various industries.
“It is a challenging time, but it is really a question of staying inventive and finding ways to fulfil the client’s needs. . . In the current climate, a shortage of capital funds means that few clients are making new furnace enquiries and very few [of those who do] are able to place orders. We are finding great opportunity in unlocking the value of what was previously disregarded as waste,” explains Thermopower Furnaces SA director William Oldnall.
He notes that the mining and minerals processing industries are facing a challenging business environment, influenced by the global commodities price slump. This is further aggravated in South Africa by significant electricity tariff increases and the yearly 10% wage increase that the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa has successfully negotiated for the past three years, with the last increase effective from July.
“The biggest cost to an opera- tion is labour . . . the drastic increase in minimum wages has, thus, led many businesses to either close or reassess their operations. We have invested in streamlining our operations and increasing productivity to survive the ever toughening conditions,” Oldnall says.
He explains that Thermopower Furnaces SA has positioned itself to help companies find innovative processes to survive in the difficult business environment. The company, he says, has a strong record of helping key players, such as integrated energy and chemicals company Sasol, a number of large mining houses and research and development (R&D) organisations the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and Mintek, to develop unique thermal processes and pioneering technologies. This has enabled Thermopower Furnaces SA to expand its reach in this field and it is currently involved in several projects with a similar focus across various industries, including mineral processing, metals and petrochemicals.
The company has been involved in an iron fines recovery project in Palaborwa, Limpopo, with iron-ore processor Iron Mineral Beneficiation Services (IMBS) since 2005; it is developing melting technology for the iron fines reduction plant, which it designed and built for IMBS. The company has been conducting R&D into iron recovery from waste streams, such as spent iron catalysts in the petrochemi- cals industry. It is also developing technology for the recovery of high-temperature wax from spent iron catalysts and conducting research into improving chrome concentration through various calcinations.
Thermopower Furnaces SA also offers a toll firing service, which involves using its fleet of rental equipment to process clients’ materials, as it is not always financially viable for these companies to invest in their own equipment. The rental fleet is also used for laboratory-scale testwork as well as process and technology piloting.
“We are in a unique position to help our clients develop thermal process technology at a time when they are trying to squeeze out every bit of value [from] their operations, keep themselves operational and maintain sustainable margins,” Oldnall concludes.