The eMalahleni Water Reclamation Plant is located in the Witbank coalfields of South Africa’s Mpumalanga province. In excess of 130 million m2 of water is stored in Anglo Coal’s underground workings, a figure that is rising every day by over 20 mega litres.
Anglo American Thermal Coal (AATC) entered a bulk supply agreement with the water-stressed eMalahleni Local Municipality since the local authority has long been grappling with the supply and demand problems, to cater for the water needs of an area experiencing considerable industrial, commercial and residential growth.
AATC approved a R300 million (US$30.1million) for a water reclamation project that is set to provide a sustainable mine water solution, while benefiting the communities residing around the mine, its mine operations as well as those of BHP Billiton Energy Coal South Africa (BECSA), which supplies mine water to its South Witbank colliery.
The plant desalinates rising underground water from Anglo Coal’s Landau, Greenside and Kleikopje collieries, as well as BECSA’s defunct South Witbank Mine and this helps in the prevention of polluted mine water from decanting into the environment and the local river system, while also alleviating serious operational and safety challenges.
The development uses the latest water purification technology and is currently desalinating record production volumes of 23 megalitres of water to potable quality per day, of which 18 megalitres is pumped directly into the Municipality’s reservoirs in order to provide 20 percent of its daily water requirements.
In addition, the plant also supplies 8 megalitres of potable water per day to Zondagsfontein, an Anglo Inyosi Coal Greenfields project, BECSA’s Klipspruit mine and the Phola coal washing plant, a joint venture between the two mining houses.
The plant operates at a 99percent water recovery rate and the ultimate goal is for it to be a zero waste facility through the 100percent utilisation of its by-product. The 100 tonnes of gypsum it produces daily is not only costly to dispose of, but is an environmental and post closure liability.
Anglo Coal embarked on phase two of the plant which will see the facility desalinate 50 megalitres of water per day with a maximum capacity of 60 megalitres a day. Mechanical and electrical installation commenced at the beginning of 2013, together with the installation of the piping, pumps, control instrumentation and power supply.
Some of the key challenges affecting the project include remaining within budget and on schedule,
“AATC is investing R732 million (US$73.5million) into the expansion. Safety is key and all contractors permitted on-site must understand our non-negotiable standards”, according to Thubendran Naidu, hydrology manager at AATC.
The Upper Olifants catchment, within which the plant is located, faces severe water shortage posing a substantial upside potential for the reclamation plant’s future sustainability. In addition, the growing need for water in the Bushveld Complex’s Western Limb holds further opportunities.
The water reclamation plant will continue to provide water treatment services to the surrounding communities. long after the closure of the mine.