The emergence of modern mining methods and innovative technologies to ensure a safe and healthy work environment, improve efficiencies and reduce costs, is expected to benefit South Africa’s junior and merging miners – a sector of the industry that, if equipped with the right tools and regulatory framework, is capable of reigniting mineral exploration within the country.
Speaking during a webinar hosted by the Minerals Council South Africa on the impact of modernisation and technical innovation on the country’s junior mining sector, Sietse van der Woude, senior executive: modernisation and safety at the Council, said that mining needs modernisation and innovation to be economically viable and globally competitive.
In the past decade, South Africa’s mining productivity decreased 7.6%, while costs have increased 2-3% in real terms, placing two-thirds of the country’s mining output is in the upper half of the global cost curve. Van der Woude says that this scenario has made the country’s mines uneconomical and unable to compete with other resource-rich countries.
“If we cannot become globally-competitive through modernisation, there could be very significant consequences,” he warned.
The Minerals Council South Africa, together with its implementing partners – the Mandela Mining Precinct and RIIS – is at the forefront of work to promote and resuscitate the country’s dire exploration, emerging and junior mining sectors through the development and rollout of technology and modern mining methods.
The aim of this is to increase the potential for the development of previously uneconomic deposits, make new discoveries and create jobs and wealth for South Africa.
Van der Woude said the US and the European Union have identified and revised lists of critical minerals and have developed action plans, which include improving international cooperation with other nations to secure a diversified and sustainable supply of these minerals.
“This presents a significant opportunity for international partnerships and investments for South African mining,” he said, adding that this could broaden South Africa’s commodity offering and strengthen its mining sector on the back of increased global demand for critical metals, which are used in the manufacture of almost all modern technologies, including those needed in the transition to a low carbon economy.
“Many of these critical metals present excellent opportunities for junior miners as most are of modest size and on surface or at shallow depth,” Van der Woude pointed out.
Speaking on the adoption of technology to find new mineral deposits, RIIS modernisation programme director Davis Cook, said the use of artificial intelligence (AI) systems in ore body recognition is gaining traction around the world. AI is capable of re-analysing existing data sets to identify previously missed orebodies.
“While this creates new efficiencies in optimising for initial search locations, it does however require detailed and updated mineral cadastres,” Cook said.
Cook highlighted a project that was undertaken in Australia in which historic data was re-analysed and in turn identified some 600 potential new deposits, which has allowed for new exploration projects. This is one area in which the use of technology could create new opportunities for junior and emerging miners in particular, he said.