Although the earliest recorded discovery of coal in the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) area of South Africa was in 1838 in the area around Dundee, small scale mining only really began in 1865. By the early 1900s the region was one of the world’s largest coal producers, with more than 500,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) being produced from nineteen mines in KZN, mainly in the Dundee area of the Klip River coalfield.

In the coalfields of KZN anthracite, bituminous and thermal coal can be mined successfully using modern technology to access notoriously narrow seams. Issues related to the extraction, marketing and use of these products continue to be of importance to the region.

South Africa and its neighbouring countries are hungry for electricity. Medupi and Kusile have their problems which could result in a quantum shortfall in coal production of 60 million tonnes per year from sources in Mpumalanga by 2015, almost 37% of Eskom’s requirements.

KZN has an extensive electricity grid system that is fed from Mpumalanga but resulting power losses within the grid are high. However, new base-load power generators situated at strategic locations within the province could assist the future stability of the grid system and contribute to a guaranteed income during the life of the mine, thus reducing its risk factor.

A successful project requires a good supply of water, reliable fuel supply, level land with no wetlands, access to a grid of not less than 275 kV and a dependable transport infrastructure.

Colenso has been earmarked for such a project, with the Colenso integrated anthracite and power project being mooted. It is estimated that up to 3,000 people would be employed during the construction phase of the power station and about 300 semi-skilled and unskilled people after commissioning. The resulting social and economic development programmes would increase the technical capabilities of the neighbouring communities, adding a potential R500 million in capital into the local economy.

“The project itself will be constructed in phases, possible 2 or 3 phases. Each phase will result in large scale local employment requirements” John James, the CEO of the Colenso project, says.

With the extensive coalfields in northern Natal and the new circulating fluidised bed combustion (CFBC) technology, coal fired power stations using discard coal and run of mine (ROM) coal can contribute significantly to the energy mix in the region.  This technology utilises the waste left by coal mining and converts it into power.  This is particularly important to power generation projects as it meets the requirements laid out in mining legislation and prevents potential pollution of the environment.

Another innovative development is the thermal treatment of municipal sludge and sewage waste. This method generates energy by trapping excess heat through the thermal treatment process. The next step is to replace supplementary coal fuel with biomass thus generating electricity from a completely renewable energy resource.

With such stimulating and forward-thinking projects, mining in KZN promises to contribute to a new era of power generation in South Africa, making the province a focal point for future development.

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