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: South Africa’s biggest electricity users are going green and clean in a multi-faceted, all-inclusive manner.
Creamer: Yes, you know, these are the producers of ferrochrome and the people who have big smelters. They use thousands of megawatts of electricity. They have been world leaders. Our ferrochrome has been the biggest supplying situation in the world until we ran into electricity problems. Ferrochrome producers started getting short of electricity and they have lost the leadership to China.
South Africa helps China to be in the lead because we still sell the chrome to them, but that is unbeneficiated and a much lower value, so it's far better to produce the ferrochrome. Now we have a situation where the world is also demanding clean electricity. So, you can have sufficient electricity and you can have electricity at the right price, but you can still lose market share if the ferrochrome is not produced in a green way. Now we see the ferrochrome producers really going all out to make sure that they will have clean and green ferrochrome that will be acceptable to the world.
Hopefully this will mean that one day we will reclaim our leadership in the ferrochrome business and take it back from China. The people who announced it this week were Merafe Resources, that is headed by the Zanele Matlala. She was saying top of her focus areas for 2022 is renewable energy. They are going at it in a three-pronged way. First of all, they use a lot of offgases from the smelting process, you can imagine when the heat is applied to all the chrome, there's a lot of offgas. They are going to take that offgas in the first move, and are at an advanced stage in this, and convert that into electricity. So that'll be step number one.
That is a cleaning process from an environmental point of view. Step number two, they're going to look on their sites, they have many of those, and see how much power they can generate. They feel at this point in time on site, solar and wind can give them another 150 MW. The big push will come with what they call virtual renewable energy, which they'll buy from other producers around the country. So you will have people producing in hot areas like Northern Cape, they will then have agreements with them to take in up to 800 MW of power. So, you know, this is big, mega wattage and it's also clean. Hopefully, we'll be able to recapture the whole market leadership in ferrochrome, which will be a big thing for us, because that goes into stainless steel. Stainless steel is itself being regarded as a green metal and the world is using more and more of it. So, it could be a big boost in the future.
Kamwendo: National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula did very well this week to urge the Parliaments of the world to act swiftly to reduce climate change, the planet’s biggest threat.
Creamer: It was great that the South African Parliamentary team met with the Inter-Parliament Union in Bali. The vigorous statement that our National Assembly Speaker made on climate change was very impressive.
With her were not only ANC members, but from all the opposition parties, notably the DA and EFF, and they all spoke and sang from the same hymn sheet, that we need to really tackle this in a rapid way, which was quite encouraging. They are saying the poorest are going to be hit hardest. Already, this is happening around the world, where climate change is resulting in agricultural change and people who are subsistence farmers are already being hurt by this. So the singing in the same way that we need to move very, very fast, will mean that our own Parliament needs to also move fast. They were saying the only way to do this is through Parliaments and through policy and doing this jointly.
This was the 144th assembly of the Inter-Parliament Union. They were also in agreement that speed is of the essence to make sure that we can ward off climate change.
Kamwendo: The big Anglo American mining company is securing its own clean, green electricity – as is South Africa’s major mineral sands mining company, Tronox.
Creamer: Anglo American has very big plans. They are looking to generate 3 000 MW to 5 000 MW. Again, it is not all on site. They will have some on their own mining sites, but the east coast, the west coast, where the wind is prime, and the Northern Cape, which has great solar potential. All of this will enable Anglo to come off the national electricity grid totally through the creation of a new regional renewable energy ecosystem.
So, this will be an interconnected situation where they will be able to draw very large volumes of electricity that they actually generate. This will mean that they can come off the Eskom grid totally, which is a massive big step. Every day companies are announcing this, and Tronox, which is a big mineral sands company listed in New York, they announced a 200 MW business development down in KwaZulu-Natal where they process the mineral sands. They are looking to do this also very rapidly. People are setting good dates, early dates, because they know that if they don't their competitors will get ahead of them.
If the competitors say, ‘well, we’re producing these mineral sands with clean energy’, they're probably going to get a better price for it too. Otherwise, they're going to get into the front of the queue. So export interests are linked to this. They have to make sure that their products are clean, otherwise the world market could take other products and that will be a big blow to South Africa
Kamwendo: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News & Mining Weekly.