On-The-Air (08/09/2023)

8th September 2023 By: Martin Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

On-The-Air (08/09/2023)

Every Friday, SAfm’s radio anchor Bongiwe Zwane speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News & Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:

Zwane: The world is heading for a record shortage of platinum supply at a time when demand is rising considerably.

Creamer: Now, platinum group metals are very important for the South African economy. Of all the mining products, these products earn more foreign exchange than anything else. So the taxes that they pay are really anxiously awaited by the fiscus. So it's always important that this industry is in steady state. But at the moment, it's got out of steady state and there are all sorts of world implications for that, including, of course, the Ukraine war, because the Russians have also got platinum group metals and they’re having to sell them at a lower price. But also Eskom of course, because these interruptions that you have mean that you produce less. So they are now estimating that there will be a million-ounces plus short, by the end of the year.

They’re also saying that the above ground stocks – so you always want to have above ground stocks, so you can get those if there's a mining problem – are going to be decimated. Now, a lot of people thought, well, there are a lot of stocks on the surface, but what actually happened was that China was buying these stocks. When China buys stocks, they use them for themselves, they don't sell them back into the world.

So there is a situation we’re heading for now, I hope it won't lead to a price spike, which can be devastating, because these metals clean the air of the world. Without these metals, people will be choking to death in the big cities, because they fit it into car exhausts and they make sure that the air pollution is limited.

Zwane: South Africa’s bulk commodity miners are holding thumbs tighter than ever for better rail efficiencies.

Creamer: You see the bulk commodities, they have to go in rail wagons, or on tracks. Because we're talking about bulk. We're talking about coal here, we're talking about iron-ore. Now we're talking about chrome as well. And so what has happened is that they haven't been able to do their logistics well, because of the problems in Transnet.

So they were quite happy when the prices were high for these bulk commodities, to put them on trucks, which costs more. But of course, it's not ideal, because it's not good for road safety, it's not good for the whole air pollution situation in South Africa, and all these trucks are travelling down to the ports of Richards Bay and also, they had to move to Maputo, because there just wasn't enough space.

They have now reached a situation where with the prices down, they can't rely on trucks as much as they used to. So they are holding thumbs tighter than ever before that Transnet gets its act together. And when you listen to the people reporting now, you can see that frustration coming through, although they've been interfacing with Transnet for months now, because they say we want results. They need to see something happening. There will be a shutdown on the iron-ore line. And the shutdown is to make sure that they can prepare the rails to a point where the trains can go back to the speeds that they used to, because when maintenance is not done, and there's a bit of a disreputable situation within rail, the speed at which these trains travel has to be limited and that the limits the export potential. So like never before they're holding firms that things will come right with Transnet.

Zwane: South Africa’s African Rainbow Minerals group is taking steps to generate its own clean electricity.

Creamer: African Rainbow Minerals is headed by Dr Patrice Motsepe, and they are going all out to decarbonise. They want to make sure that they run businesses with the lowest possible carbon.

So Dr Patrice Motsepe set a target for them for the 12 months ending June, which is a moderate target. He said they must reduce it by 4%. And fortunately, they have done that. But in doing it, they say that's just the tip of the iceberg because the potential is huge. And not only is it huge, but it brings you down the cost curve.

And with these prices of a bulk commodities down here, they've also got to come down the price curve, of course. So they are now looking at 100 MW of renewable energy for the platinum-group metals businesses. And that will mean, again, lower costs, but importantly, also clean air and making sure that we do things correctly, because the world is reaching a point that if you do not clean your electricity, they will start penalising you once you export your products, they will put additional tariffs on.

So we really need to be aware of that, and I must say African Rainbow Minerals is very aware and what they do, they've had a tradition there, when a highly experienced CEO reaches retirement age, they continue to employ the CEOs in an executive capacity.

We have that right now in that former CEO Mike Schmidt is now having to hit this decarbonisation. And he's saying a lot of things are on the way now because what they did last year was just the tip of the iceberg.

Zwane: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly.