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Every Friday, SAfm’s radio anchor Sakina Kamwendo speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News & Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:
Kamwendo: Major platinum users want recycled platinum rather than mined platinum, which is a big blow to South Africa.
Creamer: This is something we never thought of in South Africa. We don't have recycling of our platinum here, which is a big disappointment. We should insist that cars coming into South Africa, and vehicles assembled here, have these autocatalysts with platinum in them to stop the exhaust fumes from polluting the air. We haven't done so, but perhaps there is still a chance to do that in the future so we will also be able to recycle autocatalysts once they are spent. In the meantime, internationally the circular economy and recycling is huge at the moment.
The recycling of metals and minerals is colossal and one category earmarked for even greater recycling is the platinum group metals category. What some carmakers are now saying is that they would prefer to have the recycled platinum group metals, because the carbon emissions that the recycling creates is 90% to 95% less than the emissions generated when platinum group metals are mined, as happens in such big volume in South Africa. Everybody is trying to cut down on carbon emissions to conform to the Paris Agreement, to protect Mother Earth.
As a result, some car makers are now indicating that their first preference is recycled platinum rather than mined platinum, which is a blow for mining and I think mining needs to react now, fast, to try and stop the huge emissions that they create through smelting. There are new processes, hydrometallurgical processes, that use much less electricity than the pyrometallurgical processes currently in widespread use. Hydrometallurgical processing is far less carbon intensive. I think mines need to start switching over to hydromet. One is already doing so and should be producing low-carbon platinum pretty soon, but the others – who are also the bigger producers – need to follow.
Kamwendo: Global steps are already being swiftly taken to ensure that solar panels and wind turbines are recycled.
Creamer: You know again, recycling is being stipulated and the circular economy emphasised, this time by the International Council on Mining and Metals, the ICMM, which this week put out a statement that zeroes in on the recycling of metals like aluminium, copper, silicon and steel, metals in solar panels and wind turbines.
They want arrangements to be made by mining companies to arrange for the recycling of solar panels and wind turbines so that the metals can be recovered. Now, members of the ICMM include some of our companies here that are listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. For example, Dr Patrice Motsepe’s African Rainbow Minerals is a member of the ICMM, along with Anglo American, Glencore, Gold Fields, Sibanye-Stillwater, and South32. These companies are members of the International Council on Mining and Metals, the IDMM, and they will thus have to conform.
The step taken by the IDMM once again shows how important it is for South Africa to get involved in this massive new opportunity to bring waste back into the system and give it rebirth. Recycling of these metals is job intensive and will thus be very important for us. Hopefully, we will start recycling on a large scale as well so that we can conform to what is happening right around the world currently.
Kamwendo: Wits University is planning an open brainstorming session on storing carbon in underground mines.
Creamer: Again, regarding this whole issue of protecting Mother Earth, we now see the Wits Mining Institute, its DigiMine section, planning what is called a techathon. That is a brainstorming session so that people can come involved in trying to contribute to how we can store carbon in our mines.
Again. this a requirement that is happening around the world. Mines are faced with a carbon price and if they don't take steps to store the carbon, and they have got access in the underground mines to do that, they will be faced with the carbon tariffs. Already carbon tax legislation has been introduced in South Africa, and then softened, but at some stage, it's going to be brought forward quite strongly again. What the brainstorming at Wits University will do is arrange how carbon can be stored in underground mines and once the carbon dioxide is down there, now it will be monitored to ensure that it doesn't escape back into the atmosphere.
Kamwendo: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News & Mining Weekly.