Every Friday, SAfm’s radio anchor Sakina Kamwendo speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News & Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:
Kamwendo: Yet another South African mine is planning to generate its own electricity, this time as much as 84 MW.
Creamer: This is Exxaro Resources, which is a black-led company, and it is doing brilliantly on the stock exchange. Its results were really good this week. It is now wanting to generate its own electricity. This will be renewable energy, solar power, and at the same time it has set up a new energy unit so that it can do this for other mining companies as well.
It will be a mining company that works with mining companies not only in South Africa but in Southern Africa and Africa, where it sees huge opportunities to bring green energy into these mines at lower cost, and, at the same time, making sure that this does not pollute the earth. So, you have got all sorts of benefits and new opportunities around renewable energy and making sure that no carbon is put into the air, as is being demanded by mining investors the world over.
Kamwendo: South African miners are gearing up to win back the high level of the world vanadium market that we once held.
Creamer: South Africa hosts very high-grade vanadium, and we have got large quantities of it and on one stage we really dominated the world vanadium market, particularly when Highveld Steel & Vanadium was in a growth phase, out in what is today Mpumalanga.
I can remember how intensely those Highveld Steel & Vanadium executives would market their vanadium steadfastly into the world, particularly into the steelmaking market, because 90% of the vanadium goes into steel, to strengthen the steel. Now, with today’s world in a decarbonising era, this old use of vanadium is still emphasised, because the more you strengthen the steel the less steel you need to produce, and the less steel you produce, the less carbon dioxide you emit into the air. But then, at the same time, a new era of vanadium demand is dawning and it is in this new current era that vanadium is being used in batteries, particularly long-endurance batteries, that have to store large volumes of electricity.
So, South Africa has got an opportunity to make a strong comeback into the global vanadium market, because not only is our vanadium of high grade and in plentiful supply, but South Africa hosts three of the world’s four main vanadium processing plants, which is a very big plus for us. The company, Bushveld Minerals, is particularly focused on winning back a bigger share of the vanadium market for South Africa but it is listed in London and that is where we can now draw information, because the other vanadium businesses do not provide a lot of information.
Fortune Mojapelo, the CEO of Bushveld Minerals, this week called on South Africa to work as South Africa Incorporated to win back the 25%-plus market share that we used to hold because vanadium demand is not only strengthening in its older traditional roles in steel but is also strengthening its hold in the current new-era market, as a battery metal.
Kamwendo: South Africans have won a piece of the battery materials action in a very innovative manner.
Creamer: This is a very interesting story, because it is situation of people working within a company and seeing an opportunity to separate themselves from that company, and buy low-value material from it that they turn into high-value material that the world wants at the moment. That is what has happened with Thakadu Battery Materials.
They are out at Marikana and they operate within the base metals refinery area of Sibanye-Stillwater. Ruli Diseko, a 37-year-old Soweto-born entrepreneur, got out there and turned the low-value material into high-value material – a high-purity nickel sulphate that is in strong demand around the world as a battery material, for electricity storage and for electric vehicles.
Thakadu Battery Materials is selling the high-purity nickel sulphate into China, Japan, Korea, Europe and Latin American. Thakadu is doing good business because it is paid a price for the high-purity battery-grade nickel sulphate that is higher than what the London Metal Exchange price is for nickel. It gets a price premium for what is regarded as a very good battery material that is mixed with other materials to form batteries that store electricity. This is all part of the new era of making sure that we don’t put too much carbon in the air and we decarbonise the universe to stop climate change. Thakadu has shown wonderful innovation and entrepreneurship.
Kamwendo: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News & Mining Weekly.