Constrained capital expenditure in coal mining is attracting many coal players to the build, own, operate and transfer (BOOT) solution for their coal processing plants.
There is also growing scope for them to engage a wide range of integrated on-mine services.
According to Ken Basson, director: plant and engineering at B&E International, this has much to do with the changing geological and economic landscape in South African coal mining in recent years.
This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 3, 2019
As the coal industry has matured, the larger and easier-to-mine deposits have been depleted.
One of the results has been the emergence of smaller mines, which have shorter mine lives and demand greater flexibility in operations and infrastructure.
While a larger deposit with a 30 to 40- year mine life can justify more sizeable investments in fixed infrastructure, this is not the case with coal prospects which may last less than five or ten years.
“Our mobile crushing and screening plants are ideal for these conditions, and the BOOT or toll treatment model also cuts coal miners’ capex requirements and reduces their production risk,” says Basson.
“With our expertise and equipment, we can support emerging miners and even enter into joint venture agreements.”
In this way, he says, the B&E International crushing and screening offerings are a valuable resource to the transformation of the mining sector.
By providing a production guarantee on a rate per ton basis, for instance, mines can diversify their risk and lower their capital-raising requirement.
This allows new entrants into the sector, broadening the ownership structure in coal while helping meet coal demand.
“These small mines often face complex geologies, and they must be in a position to move infrastructure to where the next phase of mining must take place,” he says.
“Our mobile plants are ideal for this application and are, in any event, purpose-designed to suit the customer’s specific needs and throughput.”
He highlights, however, that today the BOOT concept is also favoured by medium-sized coal miners and even the majors.
“Not only do our BOOT and toll-treatment offerings relieve the customer of a significant upfront capex burden, but they also give them peace of mind that production targets will be met,” says Basson.
“This helps to reduce the overall strategic risk of their mining operation. Their whole venture becomes more sustainable and the brand value is protected in the eyes of the end-client.”
The plants are designed, built and maintained by B&E International’s experts at their well-equipped facilities in Kempton Park, Gauteng.
The company’s years of experience and know-how allow it to assume a great deal of the customer’s production risk, by taking on the responsibility to meet certain output targets.
As a member of JSE-listed Raubex Group, B&E International is B-BBEE-compliant and works closely with contractors, project houses and mines themselves.
Basson says the company’s experience in the mining sector over the years now means that it hosts in-house expertise in a range of mining activities.
These include drilling and blasting, crushing and screening, overland conveying, and coal processing and washing.
“Our technical capacity gives us the ability to offer an integrated service offering to customers, as they move away from owning and operating every aspect of their operation,” he says.
The B&E International offering can rationalise the mine’s value chain and improve its cost structures, as there are fewer service providers or contractors to monitor, manage and control.
Its wealth of experience in drilling and blasting goes back four decades, and the company continues to carry out these activities at its aggregate quarries.
“Coal mines and contractors can therefore call on us to fit flexibly into their value chain as it suits them, even taking on the full range of coal mining, hauling and processing activities,” says Basson.
“Our value to customers lies in being both an experienced contractor and an original equipment manufacturer (OEM).
This allows us to ensure fit-for-purpose applications of equipment, production performance and maximised production uptime through high equipment availability.”
Research and development underpins future focus
Underlying its range of services is its ongoing focus on research and development, aimed at generating and applying new technologies.
The R&D focus has led to the development of B&E International’s own high capacity, track mounted, primary coal crushing plant, currently under construction.
The aim of the new design is to further reduce the unit costs that B&E International can achieve when conducting a contract for a customer.
“This will be launched shortly and will be another important way that we maximise profitability for our contract customers,” says Basson.
“The high volume capacity of this mobile plant leads to better efficiencies while addressing the need to mine multiple small deposits in different places on the same mine site.
“It is the ideal economic alternative to installing a fixed plant – which can be prohibitively costly – or engaging many smaller contractors.”
Another important element of the company’s R&D is to help mines to address water constraints by using less water in the beneficiation process.
In particular, the field of ‘dry separation’ is being explored for coal plants. It is collaborating with a local university to investigate options and come up with sustainable solutions that will have practical value in the coal sector.
The aim is to avoid excessive water consumption, as coal beneficiation has traditionally been highly reliant on water.
“The years of experience underpinning our R&D also equips us to conduct process optimisation work for customers, including studies on how they can remove bottle-necks from their plants,” he says.
“So even if the project is a brownfield operation, we can assist wherever they are facing challenges. Our engineering team can help identify and address constraints in their process, irrespective of whose equipment they are using.”
The company provides training facilities as part of its ongoing commitment to continuous learning.
“Skills development and knowledge transfer is also an important part of how we operate,” he says.
“When we begin a project, we spend a great deal of time and effort in empowering local people with skills – so that they can participate in our operations.”