AMLive anchor Sakina Kamwendo on Friday presented another Update From The Coalface with Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly.
Kamwendo: An exciting new technology, which has the potential to boost platinum sky-high, has passed its first tests.
Creamer: There’s been a lot of development, Kell technology is what it’s called and why it’s so important is it uses so little electricity, we know we are short of electricity. This uses a seventh to a 5th of the electricity normally used to smelt the ore. This is not a smelting process, it’s a hydrometallurgical process that is being adopted by the Pallinghurst platform at Sedibelo Platinum mines, they’ve been studying this for some time now and they are in partnership with the Industrial Development Corporation. Industrial Development Corporation is a big investor in these group of mines in North West and so is the governments of Singapore, they are also investors in this, as well as the Dutch Pension Fund. You’ve got some prime investors behind this particular platinum thrust in North West, the Pallinghurst group pushing this forward, promoting this Kell technology, putting it through its first test and being very cautious about this, because you can’t put your foot wrong when you’re bringing in new technology and experienced people like Brian Gilbertson behind this is not going to do a thing hastily, but the initial reports are that it’s very encouraging, it also takes us closer to the beneficiation process and we know that the Industrial Development Corporation, which is State-owned, invested in these mines they said, “we want an integrated type operation, that’ll include downstream activity.” This particular technology, the Kell technology, almost takes you to the first step of refining, so it can help you along the beneficiation route and it also has much bigger recoveries and it can deal with the chrome issue inside the upper-group two reef, which often causes problems in smelting processes.
Kamwendo: Hopes are being rekindled for the creation of a Platinum Valley in South Africa, along the lines of America’s famous Silicon Valley.
Creamer: Hopes have been rekindled for the creation of a Platinum Valley in South Africa along the lines of America’s famous Silicon Valley. It is a dream and we can’t count our chickens before they hatch, but we have to have these plans and we see that the Minister of Trade and Industry, Rob Davies, took it a step further this week when he created a special economic zone around the Rustenburg area. The idea is to get the beneficiation going so that you have operations that are incentivised close to the platinum mines and this is a Japanese ideal that they try and promote also in Japan. Then you get the associated-type development that serves those mines. What they’re looking at, of course, is fuel cell technology. There is a window of opportunity here, it could do fantastic things for South Africa, it’s not an easy area to get in, but we can see the Japanese right behind us and we know that even at Platreef, where Ivanhoe is developing, 10% of that shareholding is owned by the Japanese, because they are looking at this future fuel cell potential, they know this is what is going to drive our cars, this is what could produce power for us, this is what could mean a power station in our kitchen. It would revolutionise the whole way of doing things, and we know that the emission from this is just water, vapour. It’s a fantastic way to enter into a modern new world, and Platinum Valley we see the Minister saying, “this will have a special economic zone, people will be incentivised to do things with platinum, we know we’ve got 75% of global platinum and we know that platinum touches about 20% of all consumer products and if you look under car in Europe you will see that catalytic converter, because without that it would be choking the big cities with pollution and even if you take that catalytic converter out from under the car, we know that it couldn’t have the petrol without some sort of processing using the catalyst from platinum. As people say it’s stardust, this is incredible stuff we’ve got here. We are the biggest custodians of this, most of it is in our ground, and in the ground in Zimbabwe and we need to do much more with it, and we can see that there are efforts, we know that a lot of those Vodacom and MTN towers out there, many of them are powered by fuel cells already. They are starting to roll out the benefits that you can get from energy, clean energy from platinum being used as catalysts, platinum catalysis, we need to advance that and as South Africans we are duty-bound to do it, although as I say, don’t count your chickens before they hatch, this is a very tough business and we know a lot of other people in the world are also going for this, not just us.
Kamwendo: Toyota has unveiled what could be the first platinum-powered car to come off showroom floors.
Creamer: It’s unveiled the exterior design of this car, it’ll be a hydrogen-powered platinum fuel celled car, a sedan. They are going to begin selling it in Japan in April 2015 and we see that they will first do it in areas of Japan where they’ve already got a hydrogen infrastructure. That is the important thing, if you are going to bring in fuel cells you need the hydrogen infrastructure. Japan has already created that in certain areas, they will start releasing these vehicles in April next year, for sale within that hydrogen powered area. When you fill up, you fill up with hydrogen that can keep your car going, and then release it in the US and Europe. We can see many the other car producers, Hyundai, Honda, Ford, Crysler, all acknowledging that the fuel cell is going to be the locomotive of the future and we need to prepare for this. We see forklift trucks using fuel cells at the moment, all hydrogen powered. The large scale power generation can also be done using these fuel cells, South Africa must move fast on this by
government and the private sector working together. Hopefully we will also be part of the new hydrogen age, making use of platinum catalysed, platinum catalysis with hydrogen powered fuel cells for vehicles and power generation.
Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. He’ll be back At The Coalface at the same time next Friday.