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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the SACPS and the organisers are pulling out all the stops to ensure that the 2019 conference is bigger, better and more informative than ever before.

The prevailing theme at this year’s conference is “Coal Processing – Extracting value from low-grade reserves.”

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 7, 2019
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According to South African Coal Processing Society's (SACPS) John de Korte, this year’s theme stems from the fact that there is currently a strong impetus to make the most out of low-grade coal.

“In the past, large mining companies mined the best, easy-to-mine and most profitable reserves. In recent years, however, several junior miners have entered the coal industry and many of these companies are now mining what’s left – the lower grade and more difficult-to-mine coal,” he explains.

De Korte continues that there is a general decline in the grade of the run-of-mine coal in the Witbank/Highveld coalfields as reserves are being depleted.

This necessitates mining companies to process more of the coal mined in order to render the coal suited for industrial use.

“Discarded coal left by coal processing operations in the past is now being re-processed at a number of mines to extract low-grade coal suited to use for power generation by Eskom. This converts a previous liability into a profitable source of low-grade coal.”

Coal under scrutiny

Delegates attending the three-day conference at the Graceland Hotel Casino and Country Club in Secunda can expect a new-look and interactive format to proceedings.

Watch our exclusive interview at the 2017 event

For starters, the organisers have revamped the space to accommodate more exhibitors and have created more room for networking. In addition, as the SACPS’ flagship knowledge sharing platform, the conference will feature a host of technical papers delivered by industry experts.

This year’s keynote speakers are Chris van Alphen and Lesley Jeffrey who will present on the 20 and 21 August respectively. Technical papers that will be presented will cover various coal processing topics, including fine coal processing and dewatering; coal properties and analysis; and the latest in processing technology.

Given Eskom’s woes and environmentalists’ lobbying, there has been a strong call for South Africa to move away from its coal-based energy economy, even though the country has some of the world’s largest coal reserves. As such, one can expect much discussion around the importance of coal in powering the country and for how long.

De Korte points out that despite the good progress being made to lower the cost of renewable energy, coal remains the least expensive and most practical source of energy and provides the required base-load electricity in South Africa.

“Coal is therefore expected to remain the main source of electricity for some years still and it is important for South Africa to utilise the remaining coal reserves optimally.

"Coal processing will play an ever more important role in maintaining the quality of coal used locally and that which is exported from South Africa,” he adds.

In 2017, the SACPS conference was attended by some 250 delegates and with a new chairperson, Devraj Reddy, at the helm, it is hoped that this year’s event will not only attract more visitors but also a younger generation of individuals working the coal processing sector.

According to Reddy, as the industry and the world moves into more complex lower grade ores, the same holds true for coal in southern Africa.

As such, there is need to pool resources and collaborate to find more effective – economically and sustainably – means to beneficiate low-grade coal reserves to supply local and global demand.

“This conference has a technical line up advancing the theme: “Coal Processing – Extracting value from low grade reserves” and will spark interest in many of the topics, leading to greater collaboration, he concludes.