SPEDU, BCL Urged To Cooperate

SELEBI-PHIKWE: Councillors have advised SPEDU to work closely with BCL mine, especially for projects in which they do not have technical expertise such as harvesting of mine emissions.

Speaking at a full council meeting last week, councillor Mogae Ketshogile said it was important for SPEDU not to be in the forefront because there were complications and unforeseen circumstances such as costs.

“Capturing of mine emissions is not easy as SPEDU wants to portray it, hence giving the public high hopes may present some challenges,” he said. “Theory and technology is there, but it is not easy as there are lots of costs involved.”

Councillor Molefhe Molatlhegi said giving the public high hopes was not good. He applauded BCL for its strategies that gave hope that there was still life for the mine. SPEDU Chief Executive Officer, Mokubung Mokubung said among the projects that they were working on were the sulphuric acid plant that is aimed at harnessing the smoke from the smelter. In his meetings in May in Selebi-Phikwe, Mokubung said SPEDU would pursue the project to capture the mine emissions to make fertilizers and other products from it. “If it costs billions of Pula then proposals would be presented to the right authorities. The economic, technical and financial analysis would be carried out. It is a huge project with costs and downstream implications,” he said.

The mine’s divisional manager for corporate services, Mark William told the councillors that it was not an easy undertaking hence the mine wants this to become a business case. He said feasibility studies were going on for possible harvesting and processing of emissions into acid and fertilizers.

Williams said: “It would need between US$500 million to US$1 billion to build an emission capture plant. Hence it can be done if it can be able to generate this amount otherwise it would not be economically viable. “Once it proves to be an economically viable undertaking we will approach commercial banks for funding. The mine is seriously working on the issue.

 If it was easy we could have long done it. We are under pressure enough to address the issue of mine emissions.” Meanwhile, William said BCL mine operations depend on the market prices of its copper and nickel metals. Currently, market prices worldwide are not favourable.

“Underground mining is very expensive hence when copper and nickel prices experience slump the mine experiences a challenge in its finances. It is not that somebody is not doing right, but it is due to the worldwide economic situation,” he added. He said the mine had since come up with Polaris II strategy to try and diversify its operations to an enterprise. He said this was a vision that they must believe in otherwise the mine would not stand a chance to survive.

“Our explorations have shown that there are a lot of mineral deposits underground but we cannot economically mine it under the current economic climate,” he said. He informed councillors that the mine’s other strategy of survival is to use its smelter to maximise capacity hence the acquisition of mining operations like Tati Nickel and Nkomati. He added that they want to capitalise on the mine’s strategic location to explore other countries to come and process their concentrates in the BCL smelter.

“We have also restructured the mine to make it attractive to investors. However, all plans are nothing without money because resources and technical expertise are needed,” he said.

He also said the company shut down to refurbish the smelter at a cost of P700 million to enhance production and withstand the dwindling market prices.

“Negotiations are still ongoing with other mines outside the country as well as other projects to utilise the smelter to full capacity,” he said.

Explorations and feasibility studies were ongoing around the country by the mine and optimisation study of Tati Nickel and BCL mine to see their economic efficiency is ongoing and is expected to be presented to the board of directors by the end of the year. BCL has a controlling stake in Pula Steel and they hope the plant will be operational by September after it was delayed by electricity connection. The study was also ongoing by BCL and a Canadian company to see the viability of converting coal into diesel. “A demo plant is expected next year and if positive it can be a project in the next three to five years,” he said.

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