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: A new manganese mine was opened in the Northern Cape this week as demand for the metal hots up.
Creamer: This was opened by Menar. Menar is very keen to get into even more manganese. Menar is big in coal up to now and also anthracite. But the demand for manganese is growing, because they want to replace cobalt in batteries with manganese. That will really be a big thing for manganese because there is going to be huge demand for batteries as we change because of climate change and we use the sun and the wind to get renewable energy.
They will want to store the renewable energy because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. So, they will need to store it in these batteries. Among the battery metals will be manganese. This demand is soaring and we see reports in Australia that they want to climb on to this manganese bandwagon. Of course, South Africa has the biggest reserve of manganese in the world. We control about 80% of the reserves. We see Menar’s new East Manganese mine opening and we also see this morning Afrimat, which is on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, announcing that they are also going into manganese.
We know Ntsimbintle, headed by struggle veteran Saki Macozoma, is expanding in manganese. There is a lot of activity now with companies trying to get their hands on manganese and sending that out to mainly China, pushed by battery demand. Of course, we still use manganese in steel. Manganese has been used to strengthen steel over the years and will continue to be used for that. Use of manganese in batteries is now an additional market. I wish it would reflect in the price. The iron-ore price has gone very high, but the manganese price is still not as high as it should be. If it did go high it would be very good for the South African economy.
Kamwendo: A call has been made for jobless geologist graduates to be hired to capture much-needed exploration data.
Creamer: South Africa is very short of good exploration data. We haven’t got the historical data captured electronically. LEI Advisory, which is a black women-led organisation, they appealed this week to the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) to employ the many jobless geologist graduates to come in and capture that information electronically. It will also give the jobless geology graduates exposure to the long history of exploration we have had in South Africa.
We need that exploration data, we need free access to it. If you look at LinkedIn and you see the number of geologist graduates without work, it is quite a large number. There is nothing worse than when you graduate in something and then you can’t get a job. That is disheartening and people leave what they’ve learnt all those years and they go and do something else. This is what we don’t want, because we are going to need a lot of geologists to do exploration. We know there has been a delay with the strategy by the DMRE, which was supposed to come through with an exploration strategy by February.
They still haven’t done that. However long it takes, we are going to need people to explore otherwise our whole mining industry collapses. Hopefully we will get some good news for that and also some good news from the department, because I keep hearing that they are short of paper and toner and this is holding up mineral rights applications, which seems absurd. Also, if you offer them the paper and the toner, they say they are not allowed to take it. I just hope that they streamline their organisation and ensure that applications can go through. The backlog is so high and we need all this exploration to come through for new mines to develop and we can do so well with the multiplier effect that mining, preceded by exploration, can provide. Once you get a mine you get so many other things for your economy. Hopefully the DMRE will actually hear all these calls.
Kamwendo: Yet another coal mining company intends entering the business of renewable sun and wind energy.
Creamer: All three of these coal companies are black-run companies. The latest is a 90% black-owned coal mining company, Seriti. Seriti made it clear this week that although they are going headlong into coal, Seriti’s longer term view is to be beyond coal. They are looking at being a general energy company rather than a coal company. They are also looking at the opportunities of generating energy from the sun and the wind.
They are conscious of climate change. They realise that the world has to move away from fossil fuels, so Seriti said this week that when they take over the coal assets of South32 on June 1, they will put them into a division called Seriti Power and that word ‘power’ indicates that they are not just coal, they are going into energy beyond coal. They are also looking at manganese and chrome. Then we have had Wescoal, also black run, saying the same thing, that they are going to be an energy company, bow to climate change and move beyond coal.
The pioneer in all this is Exxaro Resources, led by Mxolisi Mgojo, who has set such a good example in all this. He mines coal, but he is already in renewable energy, particularly wind energy.
Kamwendo: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News & Mining Weekly.