Renewable energy reinforces case to restart domestic beneficiation − Smart

6th November 2020

By: Donna Slater

Creamer Media Chief Photographer and Senior Contributing Editor


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With energy security being a significant impediment to unlocking greater investment in the resources sector of South Africa, panellists and guests heard during the Africa Downunder conference on November 6 that energy was critical for the resources sector.

Orion Minerals CEO and MD Errol Smart told delegates that energy was “core to everything” and that the mining and beneficiation industry needed cost-effective energy certainty to be sustainable.

He went on to point out that South Africa – where Orion Minerals is developing its copper/zinc Prieska project – had lost most of its beneficiation capacity because operators in the country simply could not afford to run smelters anymore.

“Smelters in South Africa have shut down because of the cost of grid energy that is produced predominantly from coal, which just is not viable.”

South Africa relies on coal for its fossil-fuel burning baseload power stations.

However, having renewable energy makes the “world of difference”, states Smart. In this regard, Orion is eyeing the use of solar and wind power to be used by the brownfield mine development, with an agreement signed in March 2019 with renewable energy project developer juwi Renewable Energies.

The agreement sees juwi advising Orion Minerals on methods to incorporate renewable energy into Orion Minerals' energy makeup for the Prieska project.

In any case, Smart said renewable energy would give the company certainty about the availability and cost of its energy supply. “It takes us into the green era, which is critically important and we need to be going there as responsible miners into the future.”

In addition, in terms of other forms of energy, he noted that South Africa was “superbly placed in the hydrogen economy” because it has a vast platinum resource it can draw upon, “which is key to the hydrogen economy”. Smart also highlighted that South Africa had a good endowment of rare earths – critical elements in battery technology development.

Also, he said, South Africa was well positioned in a macroeconomic perspective to drive the concept of being sustainably off-grid as the country could expand its development of new battery technologies, such as vanadium redox flow batteries, and hydrogen fuel cells.

“Bushveld Minerals have been doing some great stuff with vanadium batteries.”

“We have this fantastic opportunity with very high solar incidence during the day and lots of wind at night – so what a perfect solution, between solar and wind we could be generating enormous amounts of renewable energy,” said Smart, who added that batteries also provided an adequate solution for when grid power was not available.

Thus, all things considered, bringing together these modern and green forms generation and storage of energy drove home the fact that South African miners could once again start looking at domestic beneficiation of minerals, he stated.

The case for local beneficiation was also bolstered by the fact that development finance agencies were also starting to see the value of using renewable energy sources for beneficiation in the mining industry, said Smart.

As such, he pointed out that Orion was in discussions with a number of development finance agencies, discussing these very topics.

“It is a really exciting time to be operating and playing in that new era / battery metals space,” stated Smart, who added that the Northern Cape was “really going to become a major growth hub for the whole of Southern Africa”.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online


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