Black-empowered, diversified mining company Exxaro Resources broke ground in July at its Belfast coal project in Mpumalanga. The development of the Belfast mine, is being largely driven by innovation and digitisation.

This is in line with the company’s 2026 strategy aimed at remaining relevant in the changing world in which it operates.

Dubbed the Belfast Implementation Project (BIP) – Exxaro Resources’ R3.3 billion Belfast mine has been 20 years in the making and will mine the last substantial coal deposits remaining in the 100-year old Mpumalanga coalfields.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 8 2018

It is located about 10 km south-west of Belfast, on the southern side of the N4 highway. The total mining right area encompasses 7 198 ha and extends approximately 6 km from east to west and 10 km in the north-south direction.

AUTHOR: Mining Review Africa’s senior deputy editor, Chantelle Kotze, visited the Belfast site

South Africa-based engineering and project delivery specialist DRA Group has been appointed to construct a two-stage, 500 tph dense medium separation (DMS) plant to enhance processing and preparation of coal produced at the site, and will also include a fines DMS and filter section as well as a product handling site.

The plant will primarily produce A-Grade, export-quality coal (typical 6 000 kcal/kg) at a projected volume of 2.2 Mtpa, and a secondary-quality product, or ‘middlings’ product (typical 21.5 MJ/kg) of 0.5 Mtpa, both of which will be exported.

In terms of crushing, MMD Mineral Sizing Africa has been appointed to construct a primary crushing station as well as providing the secondary crusher.

The coal will be transported from the mine by truck to a linear coal railway siding, which will be constructed close to Eskom’s Arnot power station in Rietkuil, for export to the Richards Bay Coal Terminal.

A truly digital mine

Exxaro Resources is developing the Belfast mine with a digital mindset, says Exxaro executive head for projects and technology Johan Meyer.

The mine will use the latest technologies to deploy a digital mine operations management system that will generate insights and reports to improve decision-making that will in turn, reduce the mine’s costs and ensure it remains low on the cost curve.

“The data we are generating will proactively inform us of production and operational issues, thereby increasing our productivity,” Meyer explains.

Most importantly, Belfast mine will be the first of its kind in South Africa to have a “digital twin” – a complete digital replica of the mine that will enable the relevant people to connect to and manage it from anywhere in the world.

Meyer adds that even specialist consultants and subject matter experts can view the operation or data and make recommendations without physically having to visit the mine.

Further highlighting the mine’s digital connectedness, Meyer notes that maintenance teams will be connected to certain machinery to analyse and pick up problems early – resulting in increased safety and reduced downtime, which will, in turn, allow Exxaro to continuously drive for improved overall productivity.

Job creation imperative

Speaking at the sod turning, Exxaro Resources CEO Mxolisi Mgojo said that the BIP would help take Exxaro to the epicenter of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

“There is a misconception that this connected world is about the rise of machines. We believe it is about empowering people and powering better lives.

Mgojo notes that the rationale behind the BIP was not just about creating a new mine and a sustainable future for the company but also took into consideration the company’s responsibility to create better lives for the Belfast community.

“The BIP therefore speaks to the purpose of Exxaro – which is rooted in powering better lives for people in Africa and beyond,” Mgojo says.

The delivery of the BIP is expected to benefit both the Emakhazeni Local Municipality community that the mine serves as well as the greater Nkangala District Municipality, and will create close on 6 000 direct and indirect jobs during construction and the life of the mine, with a multiplier effect of almost 20 000 beneficiaries.

To date, 309 local unskilled labourers have been employed and 65 local vendors have begun supplying services to the BIP to the value of R41.2 million – with a total of R293 million of the R1.179 billion construction value of the mine estimated to be spent locally.

Moreover, the project is expected to contribute R39 billion to local GDP over the life of the mine, with Nkangala District Municipality’s GDP estimated to gain as much as R2.1 billion a year, including R966 million – a full 1% increase – of direct impact on the district municipality.

Also speaking at the sod turning event, Mpumalanga Premier Refilwe Mtshweni said Exxaro Resources’ investment is in line with the call by the President of the Republic of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa, who has challenged local companies to take the lead in investing in our country as part of his drive to raise US$100 billion investment over the next five years.

“This investment will induce much needed economic activity in Belfast and in the Emakhazeni Local Municipality whose economy is mostly boosted by its vibrant agricultural sector,” Mtshweni highlighted.

“The biggest challenge facing our country and our economies at national and local level is to get investments that will induce economic activity.

“Exxaro Resources’ belief in revitalising small towns and upskilling its workforce will ensure that this objective is achieved and that our people do not become economic migrants of bigger provinces like Gauteng,” the Premier noted.

Once operational in mid-2020, the mine is expected to produce 2.7 Mtpa of thermal coal for export over its 17 year life of mine.

This will be followed by a Phase 2, which is expected to add another 10 to 15 years to the current 17 year life of mine.

Key facts from the Belfast Implementation Project:

Investment: R3.3-billion

Production: First half of 2020

Volumes: 2.7 Mtpa of thermal coal product

Construction: 24 months

Life of mine: 17 years

Reserves: A-grade, high-yield thermal coal

Belfast is Exxaro Resources’ first Greenfields mine to be developed since 2007 when Inyanda mine, near Witbank, was developed.

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