South African mining and energy company Seriti Resources has begun the expansion of its coal mine Klipspruit in Mpumalanga, an underground extension to the mine that will lengthen its life by 25 years and maintain its production levels.

The mine’s new add-on is planned to reach full production by no later than Q1 of 2024, and the extension represents the confidence Seriti has in coal’s future in South Africa.

The news comes at a time when the country’s MPs have been debating whether it is worth lengthening the life of some ageing coal power stations.

Potential boost for national power supply

Meanwhile, Eskom, the private energy company that provides the nation with electricity from its coal-fired power stations, continues struggling to meet electricity demand and implementing planned power outages to keep the national grid online.

The electricity outages – known as load-shedding – have been the worst South Africa has ever been subjected to, and there’s no question a change is needed.

Seriti is one of Eskom’s biggest coal suppliers and has hopes to sell middlings from the new section of its mine to Eskom – talks of this are currently ongoing.

If this happens, it may provide at least a small boost for Eskom’s power generation.

About Seriti’s underground addition to its Klipspruit coal mine

Until now, the Klipspruit colliery had been an opencast mine.

But on Friday, Seriti held a “first sump” ceremony where it established the first hole of the new underground section to come.

Seriti decided adding an underground section was necessary as it would be more economical than keeping on doing opencast mining at Klipsruit, which has become costly.

The addition will also extend the mine’s life and keep it in production for another 25 years, providing a valuable source of fuel for the country.

In total, the coal reserves in the mine amount to an estimated 600 million tonnes, albeit with 30% of this being inferred mineral resources.

The underground addition will add approximately 4.5 million tonnes of yield per annum.

Coal in the time of the Green Transition

Despite the controversy surrounding coal at a time when companies are being pressured to adhere to ESG standards and ditch coal in favour of green energy, coal will still be a useful resource and a power source that can support green power, and provide base load.

While there is a push around the world to move from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy due to climate change concerns and the carbon fossil fuels emit, there is also a debate on how realistic the notion of fully replacing “dirty” energy sources with green ones is – at least at present.

There are not just conflicting opinions but also studies, some of which show that, for instance, renewables are more economical than fossil fuels, and some which seem to disprove this.

For now, however, coal, natural gas, oil, and nuclear power stations are still going to be operating for the foreseeable future.

South African mine minister Gwede Mantashe also brings up clean coal technologies as something the country can invest in that can make coal a more sustainable fuel source.

He says, “Coal will be here for a long time and it will perhaps [be here] permanently if we invest in [clean coal] technologies… The reality is coal is needed [and will continue to be].”

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