Every Friday, SAfm’s radio anchor Sakina Kamwendo speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:
Kamwendo: South Africa is expected to play an important role in a large new multi-billion-rand potash project in the Republic of Congo.
Creamer: Food security is a big thing these days. It is on the lips of the people of the World Economic Forum and many companies now. They feel that the world is going to have a problem with food shortage going forward. Of course, potash is a nutrient that is needed by the world to fertilise limited ground and now we see right here in Central Africa the Republic of Congo and we must make sure we know it is the Republic of Congo and not the Democratic Republic of Congo, they are planning a very big potash project and the hope is that there will also be quite considerable involvement there.
This could be something like a R24-billion initial starting point for a project that will probably be continuing if they go ahead with it by the time many of the executives have already left their jobs. It is going to be a long term thing. The beauty of it is that it is going to be at such low-cost. It is close to the coast, only 35km from the coast, whereas most of its competitors is thousands of kilometers from the coast. It is also close to Brazil which will be the place where they export this potash, which absorbs a lot of the worlds potash.
It is coming about at a time when it starts producing in four years the price of potash should be quite high. So this should be a very good project. We have seen people try and go ahead in Canada with potash projects, we also see in Saskatchewan where they have got a grip on the price of potash – I don’t know how the world lets them get away with a single channel marketing, they would never let South Africa get away with it – but the Canadians get away with it. This will be the competitive elements now.
This should be in the very low-cost brackets which means that it should have good profitability. The company going ahead with it is Kore Potash, which is now listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. They will also go to our Credit Insurance Corporation and they will try and get procurement debt facilities if there is any South African involvement there. It is likely that there will be South African involvement not only in the shaft sinking, because that is where our expertise is very strong on this continent, but also in the materials handling and the conveying systems. It looks like there is going to be long conveying systems.
The main big consortium is now in the hands of French and that is appropriate, because it is a French speaking country and those particular members of the consortium are used to working in that area.
Kamwendo: Wonderful news for platinum is that mining equipment driven by a fuel cell is scheduled to make a game-changing debut underground next year.
Creamer: Isn’t that fantastic? The platinum catalysing fuel cell, a fuel cell that uses platinum, will actually help to mine platinum. So they have got a particular bit of equipment now which they are ready to try underground. They think it will be a debut about this time next year, where they will use a piece of equipment that is actually powered by a fuel cell that is catalysed by platinum and it will be in the platinum mine. That will be a wonderful market and an opening of the eyes that platinum is thing to use and it has got no environmental baggage as we keep telling the world, as well as that power possibility.
The big thing that has been feared for a long time, because it uses hydrogen that there could be a problem underground with explosions, like we remember the Hindenburg disaster in New York. What has happened is that there has been new innovation where they hydrogen is actually carried in a liquid, which makes it very safe and it will go down in a drum and last for a week to push the work load through this dozer that they are hoping to introduce.
We see now announced by Anglo American Platinum as well, that there is a breakthrough also in the compression of hydrogen. So every day we are hearing that the hydrogen age is coming a bit closer and when you hear about the hydrogen age, you hear about platinum, because that is the catalyst that is used. We are hoping that this hydrogen infrastructure will be widespread in countries like China, Japan, Germany and even California. They are doing it so that the filling up of your fuel cell as will be as easy as pulling up to a petrol pump, as we know it now.
Kamwendo: Mining giant Glencore has released an all-embracing 117-page sustainability report that contains its first “modern slavery statement”.
Creamer: This is quite a sobering part of the release of this big sustainability report put out by Glencore, which operates on 150 sites in 50 countries and employs 143 000 people. It is a very big company. For their chairman to make his first statement around modern slavery is quite frightening. It indicates that what is being observed in these frontier operations, when you go into mining you often go into the frontier and clearly observations are made that indicate that there is sometimes forced labour and child labour.
They are putting in an early word now, so that this becomes part of their report. Because they are signatories to some of the biggest United Nations declarations of human rights and global compact they are almost obliged to make sure that if there are any indications of modern slavery they need to report it, particularly in those operational areas. We are hoping that at the moment it is a feared observation and that it won’t actually turn into real modern slavery.
We will look forward to their next report just to see how they expand on this. In the meantime they are working very strongly with the communities trying to make communities come away from artisanal mining where it is feared that there is sometimes forced labour and child labour and trying to get people involved in that, particularly women into new enterprises. We see that in Central Africa they have got cooperatives going and there are 4 000 people involved in these cooperatives, which are steering them away from artisanal mining towards livestock farming, bee keeping, carpentry and all the other potential businesses that they can run.
Good reports are coming out of these that the people are not only then working for their local community, but they want to go into the big towns with some of the products that they have got now. There are some very good workings around community development also in this very big report, which makes sure that the companies also cut down on the use of energy and water. It is looking very strongly at climate change and how it can deal with alleviating climate change.
Kamwendo: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly.