Sasol has officially opened the R5,6 billion Impumelelo coal mine, bringing to a formal conclusion a R14 billion mine replacement programme that was launched a decade ago and which has included the construction of the Thubelisha and Shondoni mines. The inauguration of Impumelelo was attended by a number of VIP guests, including Minister of Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe.

Meaning ‘success’ in isiZulu, Impumelelo has the capacity to produce 10,5 million tons of coal per annum, all of which is dedicated to the Sasol Secunda Syfuels Operations. The mine currently employs 1 760 people, most of them from nearby communities in Mpumalanga.

Sasol opens Impumelelo

Sasol Joint President and Chief Executive Officer Bongani Nqwababa (left) and Minister Gwede Mantashe unveiled the plaque marking the opening of the mine.

Speaking at the opening, Sasol Joint Presi­dent and CEO Bongani Nqwababa said that mining contributed 13 % to Sasol’s earnings and was integral to the group’s long-term sustainability. “We employ over 7 500 people directly in our mining operations, making us an important contributor to the mining sector in South Africa and anchor employer in Secunda.” He added that Impumelelo and its two sister mines would provide security of coal supply to the Synfuels operation till at least 2050 and had enabled Sasol to sustain around 4 000 jobs.

He noted that Impumelelo featured a number of technological advancements to improve safety in mining operations. “We have Proximity Detection Systems on our production electrical trackless machines, which warn and eventually stop the machine from operating when a person is too close. Another technology measure is an electronic trigger LED flickering light system to enhance the underground tell-tales,” he said. “This system visually draws a miner’s attention when there is movement in the roof. We have also invested in a variety of noise reduction technologies.”

Nqwababa also emphasised Sasol’s commitment to assisting SMMEs. “In developing Impumelelo, we spent nearly R150 million with Black-owned, local businesses for civil infrastructure, above-surface buildings, storage structures, and surface and underground workshops. Our project team worked closely with some of these service providers, equipping them with the relevant know-how for large-scale capital project management and execution.”

Referring to Sasol’s approach to environmental management, he said that it was a little-known but crucial fact that Sasol Mining was one of the first companies in the world to treat and recycle mine water, which it had pioneered through the use of electro-dialysis reverse osmosis. “Sasol’s ability to treat and re-use wastewater is unparalleled,” he said.

In his keynote address at the opening, Minister Mantashe commended Sasol for its investment in Impumelelo and noted that the coal mining sector was now the South African mining industry’s biggest revenue generator, ahead of both gold and platinum. He said the opening came at a time when coal mining was under siege globally for environmental reasons and he urged South Africa’s coal producers to respond by introducing clean coal technologies.

Despite the official opening taking place this year, Impumelelo has been in operation for over two years with the first coal having been produced in 2016. Talking to Modern Mining at the inauguration, Lucky Kgatle, Senior Vice President, Sasol Mining, said that all the mining sections from Brandspruit colliery (the mine that Impumelelo is replacing) had now moved over to the new mine.

“The last production from Brandspruit was late in 2018 and the mine has totally ceased operations, with the focus now being on reclamation and rehabilitation,” he said. “The 10 continuous miner sections and four stonework sections that were active at Brandspruit are now all in place at Impumelelo and the mine is ramping up to its full production level. Currently production is running at an annualised rate of just under 6 million tons and we expect to achieve 7 million tons in 2019. The transition of the teams and equipment from the old mine to the new was a demanding operation but it was accomplished very efficiently within the timeframe we set ourselves.” He added that Impumelelo had thus far enjoyed a very creditable safety record and had now worked for over a year without an LTI.

Describing the new mine, Kgatle said that with the main vertical shaft going down to a depth of 200 m, it was the deepest of the mines in Sasol’s Secunda mining complex. The main shaft is 11,7 m in diameter while the vent shaft, also sunk to a depth of 200 m, has a diameter of 6,5 m. Other infrastructure includes a 1 000 m long conveyor decline with a width of 6,5 m and a height of 3,5 m, a surface coal bunker with a capacity of 15 000 tons and an underground surge bunker with a capacity of 1 500 tons. The mine is linked to the Sasol Synfuels complex in Secunda by a 27 km-long, single flight conveyor. This is thought to be the longest conveyor of its type in South Africa and possibly Africa.

The main EPCM contractor on the Impu­melelo project was the RSV ENCO Hatch Goba Joint Venture while the contractor responsible for the sinking of the vertical shafts and the development of the decline was Murray & Roberts Cementation. The contractor for the overland conveyor was ELB Engineering.

Like the Shondoni mine, which was officially opened last year, Impumelelo has an energy efficient design, which includes the use of solar geysers, heat pumps and maximum utilisation of natural light. In addition, movement sensors in buildings switch lights automatically off when there is no movement.

According to Kgatle, the completion of Impumelelo and its two sister mines does not mean that Sasol Mining’s build programme in the Secunda area has come to a total halt. “There is one further mine on the horizon. At the moment, this is known as the Alexander project. It is located near our Syferfontein mine and was acquired from Anglo American Inyosi Coal about 18 months ago.

“This new mine – which could cost in the region of R6 billion – will be an underground operation with access provided from the highwall of a boxcut. Planning, design and permitting is at an advanced stage and we would expect to break first ground on site in 2021 or 2022, with first production starting in 2025,” he concluded.

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