The African explosives sector remains steady, owing to an increase in African mining opportunities and positive market conditions, says BME Southern African Development Community (SADC) MD Ralf Hennecke.
With the growing interest in battery minerals such as lithium and cobalt, there is a further positive outlook for African countries with these resources, he explains. Anticipating more demand from China, there might also be scope for further uranium production in countries like Namibia.
In addition to its gold focus, West Africa has potential for significant bulk minerals production, such as iron-ore, and these prospects become more viable as the region moves towards establishing the necessary infrastructure, he explains.
This presents considerable opportunity for the explosives industry, as the region does not produce the raw materials for explosives required by the mining sector.
However, the mining explosives sector in Africa does face challenges, which vary between regions and countries.
In West Africa, for instance, these challenges tend to manifest mainly in terms of security and infrastructure. While SADC countries have better infrastructure, there are some regulatory challenges, such as localisation policies, that demand more attention and investment by blasting companies.
Hennecke explains that the lack of foreign direct investment in Africa has exacerbated the challenge of ageing infrastructure in many countries, leading to unreliable supply of basic services such as electricity and water.
While there are countries where efforts are being made to address these challenges, the general infrastructural challenges often hinder the application of technology.
“Where connectivity is not reliable, it is difficult to create mines of the future to drive down costs and improve sustainability,” explains Hennecke.
Mines of the Future
BME has progressed well in developing equipment for smart mining for “mines of the future” to become a reality. These innovations include the automation and digitisation of blast-related tasks, and the optimisation of processes to eliminate human touchpoints.
The company’s offerings facilitate real-time reporting on mines, which is a priority in the industry, to improve overall efficiency. In particular, the data generation and transfer capability of BME’s Blast Alliance portfolio is constantly being enhanced.
There is also a trend towards the accelerated uptake of emulsion explosives in underground mines. BME has noted significant progress in SADC countries, where formulations such as BME Innovex Lateral and underground pumping technology are applied in lateral drill holes for development, as well as in uphole applications.
“The safety of our emulsion supports this trend, making it easier for mines to transport and store emulsion; they also save on shaft time, as they needn’t close the shaft when emulsion is transported underground,” says Hennecke.
Customers’ drive towards smart mining to achieve greater productivity through improved monitoring and control of all systems encourages BME to continue improving its solutions.
Through its technology, the company also values environmental sustainability, in line with mining operations becoming increasingly focused on such sustainability.
“We incorporate used oil from a customer into our emulsion formulation – ensuring that this oil is disposed of quickly and responsibly,” explains Hennecke.
BME also supports mines’ efforts to reduce carbon emissions by reducing blasting cycle times, while its optimal fragmentation reduces the energy consumed in loading, crushing and milling.
The company has also reduced indirect carbon emissions by introducing renewable energy at its plants.
Hennecke says the Covid-19 pandemic heightened concerns about the security of supply for mines, especially in regions such as West Africa, which rely on seaborne freight for most inputs, including emulsions.
“BME’s supply chains performed well; however, allowing us to service customers without running out of stock at any site.”
In the SADC, supply is more manageable across the road network.
The pandemic has also resulted in closer collaboration between blasting suppliers and customers. There is an increased requirement for detailed forecasting and planning, and greater transparency in what is expected by the customer.
BME provides security by leveraging working capital to reduce customer risk, and applying a general vigilance and solution-focused approach to supply.
The automation of BME’s plants meant that the company was well prepared for the disruption of Covid-19, and could continue high-volume production while observing safety protocols including physical distancing.
BME’s highly stable dual salt emulsion formulations are robust and designed to provide optimal blasting outcomes. This is valuable when these emulsions are transported across long distances and it transfers well, owing to its stability.
Owing to Africa’s vast landscape, and mines being very remote,
transport and storage times can be long.
Remote mines also gain considerable benefits from BME’s electronic detonators, which provide greater flexibility when storing inventory and can have their timing adjusted electronically. Mines can keep stock of these versatile detonators, rather than having to stock a range of different detonators with fixed timing.
“We understand the demanding conditions well and our modern plants are well integrated into these markets, ensuring quality products and securing supply for our mining customers,” concludes Hennecke.