Overview of the South African Coal Industry Coal Preparation Engineering: Key to the Future South Africa has a current annual production of about 300 million tons of hard coal, and sales of about 230 million tons. It ranks fifth in the world as a coal producer, after the USA, China, Russia and Australia, but second in the world, after Australia, as an exporter. Anglo Coal, a division of Anglo American plc, and Ingwe Coal Corporation, a division of Billiton-BHP plc, are the leading producers. Other large producers include synthetic fuels and petrochemicals producer Sasol, Duiker Mining, Eyesizwe and Kumba Resources. The role of the coal preparation engineer will become more important in South Africa as the quality of South African reserves of raw coal declines. The coal preparation engineer will increasingly become the vital link between the mine and the market. Although South Africa still possesses vast reserves of coal, the reserves of higher quality coal from the Witbank-Highveld coalfield are being rapidly depleted. The bulk of South Africa’s exports emanate from this coalfield which has been mined for over a century. Nearly all South Africa’s coal exports are routed through the Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT) via a dedicated coal line, with minor quantities exported through Maputo and Durban. A decision has been taken to increase the annual capacity of the RBCT from 72 million tons (Mt) to 82Mt in order to accommodate some of the smaller producers. This is likely to be the RBCT’s last expansion and effectively sets a limit on South Africa’s coal exports. The expansion in the RBCT capacity will place further strain on reserves in the Witbank-Highveld coalfield and there are already some export collieries within this coalfield which have a limited life. There has already been a swing away from low ash coal (blend coking coal) to steam coal exports. As the quality of the coal reserves declines, the cost-effectiveness of maximising the yield while producing an acceptable quality of export coal will become more important. More mines will switch from being exclusively export mines to becoming multi-product mines and there will be more reprocessing of waste dumps. One of the major thrusts will be the improved beneficiation of fine and ultrafine coal. The decline in high-quality reserves in the Witbank-Highveld coalfield will effectively mean a decline in South Africa’s coal exports, because there is no other coalfield in the country that could produce export quality coal and transport it to the RBCT at competitive costs under current circumstances. Although the Waterberg coalfield has large reserves, transport costs would be higher due to the greater distance from the port and no dedicated line to RBCT. There are also large reserves in the Volksrust-Amersfoort coalfield, but they are deep with thinner seams and the geology of the deposits would make it difficult to mine economically and safely. The South African coal industry has recognised the importance of the Witbank-Highveld coalfield and established Coaltech 2020, a collaborative research programme which was conceived in November 1998 by the mining industry, CSIR Mining Technology Division (Miningtek), government, labour and the Universities of Witwatersrand and Pretoria. One of the most important objectives of this programme is to extend the life of the Witbank-Highveld coalfield through the application of technical advances. Domestic Markets Despite the declining reserves of high quality coal for the export market, South Africa remains an energy-rich country and there are still large reserves for most applications on the domestic market. There are three major domestic markets: power generation, Sasol (fuels and chemicals) and other inland markets (industry, metallurgical, merchant and domestic, and mining). Most of the coal sold on the other inland markets is sized coal (+6 mm). South Africa’s reserves of metallurgical coal are limited. Iscor imports some coking coal for its steel operations in addition to supplies it receives from domestic sources: Kumba Resources’ Tshikondeni and Grootegeluk. Reserves of low-phosphorus coal and anthracite for the ferro-alloy industry are also limited. There are, however, still abundant reserves of coal suitable for the state utility company Eskom and synthetic fuels and petrochemicals producer Sasol. The price of electricity in South Africa, at between 1.3 and 1.8 US cents per KwH, is among the cheapest in the world and this has led to the development of a large aluminium industry in the region. However, the cost of electricity is expected to become more expensive as Eskom becomes more accountable to public scrutiny and the sunk costs of the new equipment are included in the electricity tariffs. Sasol uses low-grade, high-ash (25% to 33%) coal for its production of synthetic fuels and chemicals. Most of the coal is supplied by its associate company, Sasol Mining, from mines in the vicinity of the plants. However, natural gas from Pande and Temane in Mozambique will replace large tonnages of coal currently used as a feedstock in Sasol’s plants. Sasol has committed itself to converting its Sasol Chemical Industries (SCI) plant at Sasolburg entirely to a natural gas feed. Sasol Mining closed its underground Sigma mine, which served SCI, in 2000 and will cease production from its Wonderwater strip mine within a few years. Gas will also be used to supplement coal at the Sasol Synthetic Fuels (SSF) plant at Secunda and all future expansion at this plant will be based on natural gas. The swing towards natural gas at the Sasol plants will enable Sasol Mining to increase exports from its mines. In 2000, South Africa’s coal sales in million tons (Mt) according to market were as follows: • Eskom: 83 Mt • exports: 69 Mt • Sasol: 45 Mt • other domestic: 30 Mt (including the iron and steel industries, and anthracite production). Acknowledgements The above article was written by Ian Robinson, Editor of SA Mining, in consultation with David Michael, Chairman of the South African Organising Committee for the XIV International Coal Preparation Congress, and Johan de Korte, Coal Preparation Engineer, CSIR Miningtek. Originally published in SA Mining November 2001.
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