JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Concern about mineral resource scarcity is widespread and, at the same time, many countries, such as Australia, Canada and China, are investing significantly in strengthening their mining-related research, development and innovation (RDI) capabilities.
“This makes cost and differentiation competitiveness a challenge for South Africa,” states Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) CEO Dr Thulani Dlamini in an Op-Ed to Mining Weekly, in which he emphasises that it will require all mining RDI stakeholders – Minerals Council South Africa, mining companies, mining equipment suppliers, government and research institutions – to have an integrated plan for South Africa’s mining industry to become globally competitive in niche areas.
As an entity of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), CSIR hosts the Mandela Mining Precinct, the largest public-private partnership of its kind between the DSI and the Minerals Council.
With significant investments required to achieve mining modernisation goals, CSIR has partnered with the Minerals Council and other mining stakeholders in the development of the CSIR Mining Roadmap to revitalise mining extraction RDI.
“Much like mining is the cornerstone of the South African economy, harnessing RDI to deliver value is one of the cornerstones of competitive industries,” Dlamini accentuates.
While South Africa holds the overwhelming percentage of the world’s platinum reserves, he points out that extraction is inhibited by:
- increasing depths to safely access mineral deposits;
- low efficiency and productivity with a high cost of production;
- ageing infrastructure; and
- skills shortages.
“We must admit that holding 80% of the world’s platinum reserves is of little value if the country cannot benefit from the extraction and beneficiation thereof.
“Changing the way we mine means equipping ourselves with information about the host rock that would enable efficient and accurate decision-making,“ notes Dlamini, who adds that CSIR’s geophysicists have been optimising a suite of geophysical techniques for safer extraction of minerals amid understanding that the provision of detailed orebody knowledge ahead of mining is crucial to mitigate falls of ground and ensure optimal extraction.
He applauds mining operations that regularly report zero fatalities and highlights CSIR’s provision to mines of safety training through its Kloppersbos fire and explosion research and testing facility, which is being enhanced with the inclusion of virtual reality-based immersive training modules for emergency preparedness, including the correct use of self-contained self-rescuers.
With technological innovation at its core, CSIR has set up a one-of-a-kind learning factory in partnership with the Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Education and Training Authority to leverage Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) opportunities.
This facility’s technology development reflects CSIR’s engagements with organised labour and augments a memorandum of understanding the Mandela Mining Precinct signed with organised labour last year to ensure full participation in the modernisation research agenda.
In view of the need for skills development for the operation of 4IR technologies, CSIR has partnered with industry through the Mandela Mining Precinct to establish an underground test facility at Royal Bafokeng Platinum’s Maseve mine.
Dlamini points out that 4IR technologies to improve safety, productivity and efficiencies have become an important value driver for the mining industry, with research by Accenture showing that digital technologies can assist mining houses to unlock R153-billion in value by 2026.
He foresees the ability to predict productivity, safety and financial sustainability as becoming a key future mining industry enabler and points out that CSIR’s product lifecycle management capability provides a means to simulate ‘what if’ scenarios to support future decision-making processes.
Dlamini states that mining presents many opportunities for the introduction of circular economy thinking by designing out waste, keeping products and materials in use for longer, and regenerating natural systems, which will significantly improve the competitiveness and sustainability of the sector.
On the energy front, CSIR climate models for the mining industry point to good solar sources in the gold and platinum mining regions of South Africa, thus providing alternative energy generation options that include battery electric and green hydrogen fuel cell implementation.