Mine dump rehab pilot project being undertaken at Mintails tailings sites

2nd October 2015 By: Anine Kilian - Contributing Editor Online

Black-owned green technology company G-Tech is running a mine dump rehabilitation pilot project in Randfontein, West of Johannesburg, on one of South Africa-focused gold miner Mintails’ tailings sites.

G-Tech rehabilitates wasteland by restoring indigenous biomes and the biodiversity by “planting” polylactic acid (PLA) – a biodegradable thermoplastic polymer that stimulates the regrowth of uprooted plants and produce on any type of surface. The pilot project is on a 1 ha scale.

The next phase of the project will include the planting of biofuel and other bioenergy feedstock to produce bioethanol and biodiesel.

“In this phase, we are trying to demonstrate the viability of rehabilitating wasteland by creating sustainable economic activity for affected mining communities – rehabilitation that is economically sustainable for mining houses,” says G-Tech business developer and marketing manager Bonga Masoka.

He tells Mining Weekly that the cost of the previous pilot project was between R350 000 and R400 000 and was wholly funded by G-Tech. The costs included the PLA polymer, the Biomosome used, labour and the transport of labour to the site.

Masoka points out that the benefits of using PLA include the rehabil- itation of mine dumps through restoration of indigenous biomes and biodiversity, which includes the prevention of soil erosion, soil dispersion and water runoff, as well as the greening of gardens, fields and land.

“We also offer sustainable agricultural solutions to locals in mining towns, where land is deemed infertile to grow produce.”

Further, he says the company plans on creating jobs in the mining sector. “Twenty thousand jobs have been lost in the mining sector since April this year, with more job cuts announcements pending. “This means more than 20 000 devasted families.”

The company currently employs ten seasonal employees and two permanent employees at its factory in Soweto, Gauteng, where PLA is manufactured.

Seed manufacturer Sakata is also involved in the project, for which it uses its Biomosome seed blend, a combination of pioneer sub- climax and climax grass species specifically formulated for this kind of application.

“A lot of research and development has gone into the Biomosome blend – a combination of commercial and naturally harvested varieties. It is a tool to reinstate a successful grassland succession in the area,” says Sakata sales representative Eleanor Glaum.

Masoka states that G-Tech has been in talks with another gold mining company to plant the biofuel feedstock, in the form of sorghum and soybean, as part of its next pilot project. G-Tech hopes to use between 1 ha and 3 ha of one of the tailings dumps for the pilot project.

The new project is most likely to involve partnerships with the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), both in Pretoria.

The ARC will mainly be involved in the first phase of the pilot, which will include providing technical knowledge on field layout, design and the cultivars to be used, as well as the training of employees on agricultural fundamentals such as seeding, fertilising and cultivation practices. The CSIR is set to be involved in the end-phase of the pilot, which entails processing the feedstock into biofuel.

“We have also been in talks with the Department of Mineral Resources, along with its advisers from Mintek and the Council for Geoscience, to rehabilitate some of their asbestos tailings dumps in Limpopo, in the Northern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga,” he notes.

Masoka notes that G-Tech collaborated with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on a project to alleviate poverty, unemployment and food insecurity in Ward 21, Soweto, last year.

Ward 21 has a population of 27 867. The project focuses on expanding the agricultural land using PLAs, increasing the income of small-scale farmers by decreasing water use for agriculture and increasing productivity using a drip irrigation system.

G-Tech, with the support from the UNDP, turned barren land into productive land using PLA and tube roll planters.

“The cooperative has about nine members from different households; therefore, more than nine households’ food security situations have been improved by the project. From time to time, members of the surrounding communities come to the project to request vegetables and the cooper- ative provides produce for community members in need.”

Masoka adds that the cooperative is engaging local government with a request to access a big piece of land so that it can meet the capacity requirement for reliable and consistent suppliers to retail supermarkets. The UNDP is planning to replicate the model in other parts of South Africa to contribute to improving food security at household level, where the projects will operate.

“Overall, our rehabilitation strategies aim to re-establish indigenous biomes for future liveli-hoods to diversify the country’s economy by producing energy on wasteland, thereby limiting competition over arable land between biofuel production, and food production for food security purposes,” he concludes.