Mining and Mineral Resources


South Africa produces about 59 different minerals from 1115 mines and quarries and, although the sector’s contribution to GDP has fallen gradually from 20% in the 1960s to 6.8% from 2000 to 2008, mining remains an important source of employment in South Africa employing directly ~2.7% of the economically active population and much more when the backward and forward linkages of the sector are considered. Apart from being both a direct and indirect contributor to climate change, climate change itself, and particularly the impacts of climate change response measures, has important implications for this sector, including, among others –

  • Fugitive emissions of methane (CH4), an important potential fuel, especially from coal mines are a significant source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and account for ~9% of South Africa’s emissions. The burning of coal as a fuel accounts for the bulk of South Africa’s GHG emission, i.e. over 60% of total emissions.

  • Certain mining operations, especially large-scale open-caste mines, reduce natural carbon-sequestration capacity and may also result in increased water stress due to water use and/or pollution.

  • The Mining and Quarrying sector has been identified as being at considerable risk from the secondary impacts of climate change, especially risks relating to regulation that targets energy intensive mining companiesand, with this, potential disparity in relation to key competitor countries such as Canada, the USA, Russia and Australia.

  • A local and global transition to low carbon societies and economies will negatively impact on local coal sales and exports, although the export impacts are only likely to become significant in the medium- to long-term.

  • Climate change responses may create industry opportunities in platinum (e.g. catalytic converters), uranium (e.g. nuclear energy) and copper (e.g. energy efficiency).

To address these challenges, South Africa will –

  1. By 2015, compile and initiate the implementation of a strategy and action plan to reduce fugitive emissions of methane (CH4) by 42% from the business as usual  by 2025.

  2. By 2015, compile and initiate the implementation of an action plan for the national roll out of appropriate coal-bed gasification projects.

  3. By 2012, ensure that the industrial policy action plan (IPAP) has fully explored how local and global climate change responses may be fully exploited by theplatinum, uranium and copper mining industries.

  4. Work with the mining industry to increase its energy efficiency across its production processes.


Strategy & Action Plan to reduce fugitive emissions from mining

5.5.8 refers.
Spontaneous combustion of coal is an additional fugitive emission from coal mining that creates a significant air quality problem in surrounding areas. Where possible, it should be looked to link these 2 objectives and so promote a co-benefits approach. The primary emissions are SO2 and PM.

Energy Services Company Involvement

In terms of point 4 of the South African commitments, a suggestion is made to reword as follows:

Work with the mining industry to increase its energy efficiency across its production processes, with possible facilitation by Energy Services Companies (ESCo).

Existing Coal Mine Methane Capture Commitments

In terms of point 2 of the South African commitments, the implementation and action plan for coal bed gasification should also include capturing of methane and generation of power via IC engines from existing coal mines where gasification will not be applied (and in non-coal mines where appropriate). Maybe this should be under a separate study also to be compiled by 2015.

Fugitive Emission Interventions

The first point under mining and mineral resources states that 9% of South Africa's GHG emissions are generated from mining fugitive emissions (particularly from coal mining). This is incredible and if this is the case I am uncertain as to why methane capture is not taking place at a large scale (financial constraints I imagine!) - the only project example which I am aware of is the Beatrix Gold Mine Methane Capture project.

If these figures are correct the fugitive emissions amount to 40 Mt CO2eq/year (440 Mt CO2eq total emissions * 9%). Given the global warming potential of methane (21) this amounts to 1.9 Mt CH4/year. Hence, assuming a methane calorific value of 50 GJ/ton, the electrical energy generation capacity is in the order of 10 000 GWh/yr (1 900 000 t CH4/year * 50 GJ/ton CH4 / 3 600 GJ per GWh * 38% electrical efficiency of IC engine). This amounts to 1 300MW of power generation capacity.

Other than research into coal gasification, the extraction of methane and capture for power generation should be made a priority - allows coal operations to continue at a lower carbon emissions baseline until alternatives are brought online. Our company is engaged in such a project in another African country, hence proving that this is possible.