Government policymaking has focussed with increasing intensity on the need to diversify away from mining and resource extraction towards a manufacturing, value-adding and job creating economy. The realisation is that dependence on resources exposes the economy to volatile commodity prices and being on the wrong end of the value chain, and efforts should be made to add value to the country’s finite mineral endowment.
Investors in beneficiation can be assured of a welcoming enabling environment, with beneficiation initiatives backed by government and supported by development finance agencies. Diverse and vast mineral resources, sometimes insufficiently exploited, sometimes simply exported with minimal or no processing, provide specific avenues for beneficiation investment.
Platinum group metals (PGM)
PGM growth has been symbiotically intertwined with environmental concerns, since almost 40% of PGM demand is for autocatalytic convertors for vehicles. The Paris Accord and the drive to reduce greenhouse gases provides a unique chance for South Africa’s PGM beneficiation. Hydrogen fuel cell technology can grow in response to increasing demand for energy storage. A multi-stakeholder fuel cell industry development initiative aims to create new market opportunities, to ensure the continued growth of PGM mining, as electric vehicles reduce demand for catalytic converters.
Beneficiation opportunities lie in, among others, coal-bed methane gas extraction, coal-to-liquid fuel conversion, carbon capture and storage, and coal ash for use in the construction industry.
Iron and steel
Improving the competitiveness of the domestic steel industry is a strategic mandate in South Africa. Investment opportunities exist in revitalising downstream manufacturing capacity in foundries and mini-mills supported by government incentives.
The bounty of gold, platinum metals and diamonds presents itself as a tantalising opportunity for transformation into much higher value-added industry of jewellery manufacture
Investment is needed in the titanium metal and pigment value chain, including establishing a smelter and downstream production.
Uranium and thorium
Nuclear fuel fabrication to service growing export demand provides opportunities, and in the longer term, to supply local nuclear power plants.
Vast untapped domestic resources offer exciting prospects for investment in a new mass energy storage technology. Vanadium redox flow batteries for energy storage are promising, both for domestic use and for export, as power generation from renewable energy increases. Such batteries, though bulky and thus better suited for industrial use, have the advantage of offering high voltage with unlimited charging capabilities, and are less dangerous than lead-acid batteries.