27/04/2012 (On-The-Air)

27th April 2012 By: Martin Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

Every Friday morning, SAfm’s AMLive’s radio anchor Xolani Gwala speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:

Gwala: Prehistoric worms found deep in a Free State gold mine may hold the key to South Africa’s acid mine water problem.

Creamer: Yes, it has caused quite a lot of excitement that they’ve found these prehistoric worms. They are very tiny things, only 0.5 mm, but if you compare their feeding ground deep in the Beatrix mine more then 1 km down in the Free State, its lake a whale in a lake. These particular worms are now leading to patents.

There have already been six patents filed in the hopes that these particular micro-organisms can help South Africa clean up its pollution act and particularly related to acid-mine drainage, which is quite a curse up here.

We’ve had this legacy of 100-years of mining and then left behind has been this acid-mine water and people are fearing the day when it might decant onto surface.

What is happening down in the Free State now is that these researchers at the university are also working with the Americans and the Europeans and have filed these patents in the hopes that there might be some sort of key to the ability of this micro-organism to clean up the environment and develop cleaning-up process. Not only for things like acid-mine drainage, but also oil-spills in the sea etc.

Gwala: Amazing, patenting of worms, has that ever been done before?

Creamer: It’s patenting of the process, I think, around the worms.

Gwala: South Africans have been appointed to advise the government of Cameroon on the development of its mining industry.

Creamer: It is interesting to see how other countries regard South African’s quite highly when it comes to knowledge around metals and minerals.

We find that the Cameroonian government has now appointed a consultancy, which is born in Johannesburg here, the SRK Consultancy, Steffen Robertson and Kirsten, to advise the government of Cameroon on developing minerals and mining industry for the country that they hope will be a country changer.

They are working on a mining convention which includes formalising the technical standards that will be applied to development, but two big metals and ore bodies are being studied at the moment.

That is iron-ore where Cameroon in the south-east of that country is looking at a very big iron-ore project. Of course, like all of these projects, they need logistics and there is talk of a review of a 570 km railway line that runs through the equatorial jungle. It will have to link up to a deep water port. There is always infrastructure involved. Also, bauxite, which we know that there is going to be a demand for bauxite, which is the ore for aluminium.

There is 1-billion tons of it estimated in parts of Cameroon. So the South Africans there, helping the government to make sure that when this is turned to account, its turned to account in a positive way that can boost Cameroon.

Gwala: The Gautrain Management Agency is studying the economic feasibility of expanding the rapid-rail system in two new directions.

Creamer: Gauteng hasn’t done its last leg yet. We saw journalists get on the train for R19, of course, and three minutes later they can complete the Gautrain’s last leg, which is Rosebank to Park Station.

Even now, the Gautrain Management Agency, led by CEO Jack van der Merwe, say they are starting to look at expansions of the system and they are looking east and west. They are not going to ask the provincial government for any project funding soon, but it is not a big budget funding exercise, but rather a big planning exercise.

We know that they started the Gautrain system planning in the year 2000 and we are only now getting to the end of it and we haven’t even got the final leg. We have got parts of the other system from the airport to Sandton and Pretoria to Rosebank, so most of it has been done.

We are now looking to expand that operation. This final leg is not coming without controversy. We see a bit of a tick-tack between the Gautrain Management Agency and Bombela which is the operator over water ingress from a tunnel.

That may just hold up this final leg although Bombela is champing at the bit to have the section from Rosebank to Johannesburg put in to the full service, Gautrain Management Agency are putting their foot down and saying that they need to get the water problem sorted out first. Bombela only has a concession for 15 years, we will need proper infrastructure underground and no water ingress for the next 100 years.

So they are wanting to make sure that this is done. So again a little bit of a controversy around Gautrain, but a very necessary form of transport which is being used by 32 000 to 35 000 people a day, as we speak.

Gwala: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly, he’ll be back with us at the same time next week.