In The Money
By Nelendhre Moodley
Platinum group metals (PGM) are trading at all-time highs. And on the back of soaring demand for clean energy, development of the hydrogen economy is being fast-tracked. Added to this, producers are injecting hefty sums to unlock value through project expansions. Delivering the keynote address at the fourth edition of the annual PGMs Industry Day, Minister Gwede Mantashe noted the good news but cautioned that commodities were cyclical in nature and that prices would in time dip.
Discussing production, he said that while “total annual PGMs production for 2020 declined by 15.5% to 226.5 tonnes, as compared to 2019, which recorded 268.1 tonnes”, 2020 was a good year in terms of revenue.
“The revenue for 2020 increased by 40% and raked in R190.4-billion. Export sales revenue contributed R173.3bn in 2020 representing a 39.1% increase from the R124.6bn recorded in 2019.”
According to Mantashe, South Africa had established a research, development, and innovation strategy on hydrogen, known as Hydrogen South Africa (HySA), which aimed to stimulate and guide innovation along the value chain of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.
However the minister was reluctant to incentivise the sector yet, a move that would add further impetus for the hydrogen economy, stating that only once he was able to view projects in operation, such as Anglo American’s hydrogen-powered large mining truck, would he make the push for incentivisation.
“The South African government is strongly committed to the HySA strategy’s ultimate goal to eventually supply 25% of global platinum group metal-based catalyst demand for the hydrogen and fuel cell industry based on local technologies. In this respect, Mintek’s fuel cell catalysts and membranes are currently being commercialised with the aim of supplying the global market.
“In addition to catalysts, HySA research work also includes infrastructure and systems development. We appreciate the work of the various partners who are working towards ensuring that we develop hydrogen fuel cell and lithium battery storage technologies.”
Mantashe also called for the mining sector to lift its contribution to gross domestic product (GDP), which “two decades ago accounted for 15% of GDP but which today accounts for just 8% of GDP”, to 12% of GDP. As part of the sector’s recovery plan, he called on industry to invest in exploration – “to identify where the new minerals were located, their quality and quantity”.
“Our goal is to increase the country’s share of global exploration expenditure to at least 3% within the next five years. We welcome and appreciate the cooperation and work done by all stakeholders in the development of a new competitive exploration strategy.
“This strategy will be the country’s exploration blueprint to attract investment and drive a growth in the contribution of mining to GDP. This will be done by identifying barriers that inhibit exploration in South Africa and recommend a set of appropriate interventions to achieve a respectable minimum share of exploration budget from the total global expenditure,” said Mantashe.
He welcomed the platinum industry’s hefty investment into expansion projects, including the R6.8bn expansion announcement by Sibanye-Stillwater into their K4 PGM mine and the Impala Platinum investment of R5.7bn into the expansion of Two Rivers mine in Limpopo.
Spotlight on key challenges
Despite the business sector’s hard push for the production of self-generated power to be lifted from 10MW to 50MW, the minister capped self-generation at 10MW.
According to Mantashe, companies looking to self-generate power for own use could do so at unlimited production levels. However, if the self-generated power was intended for transmission onto the power grid, then it required a licence and was capped at 10MW.
Another challenge plaguing industry remained the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy’s (DMRE) poor functioning cadastral system.
In response to the question on when the DMRE would have a proper functioning cadastral system, the minister conceded, saying the system was “the biggest worry for the department”, which had given itself six months to get the process working.
“We are looking to develop a system that is transparent, easy to use and one which avoids corruption.” The minister invited those with the necessary expertise to assist the department in establishing a working cadastral system.
Further to this, the long-awaited Mandela platinum coin continues to remain elusive. The PGM sector recently welcomed the sale of over 2 000 platinum coins featuring an elephant – the coins were being minted since in March 2020. However, progress on the development of the Mandela platinum coin was being stymied by National Treasury.
“I must confess that we are battling to get the go-ahead from National Treasury for the creation of the Mandela platinum coin,” said Mantashe.
In a push to progress efforts, Mantashe called on PGM industry CEOs to make contact with President Cyril Ramaphosa in the hopes of getting buy-in from the highest quarters.