Technology Areas

Natural Resources

South Africa's economic growth has been and will continue to be closely linked to the mining industry. The country is one of the world's most important mining countries in terms of the variety and quantity of minerals produced. However, there is acknowledgement that, as a nation, South Africa has under-invested in the development of commercially viable mining technologies over the past several decades.  In retrospect, this probably was short-sighted for a country that relies on the commodities produced by the mining industry, for both a significant fraction of its GDP and as a major source of export earnings. 

The reason for this under-investment is due to the real price of mineral commodities declining steadily throughout the 20th century. The mining industry was, and remains, a price-taker. The name-of-the-game for mining companies during this period, was to cut costs in line with the continually falling prices they received for the commodities that they were producing. This was generally achieved by developing ever-larger open pit mines and by using increasingly bigger pieces of equipment to mine these deposits – not by developing new technology. Consequently, mining technology did not change in any significant way during that century. Mining was carried out using drills and explosives to break the rock, shovels and other diggers to load it into trucks which then transported the ore to processing plants and the waste to rock dumps.  This was the era of high volume batch mining.

In South Africa, where important deposits, including gold and platinum are mined underground, the mining technology also did not change in any fundamental way during the century. These ores are, by-and-large, still mined by hand-drilling in narrow stopes, blasting and then scraping the often heavily diluted ore into gullies, transporting through ore passes to haulage levels and from there in rail cars to skips where it is hoisted to the surface. The valuable mineral is extracted expensively from the diluted ore in a processing plant.

Business Unit Purpose

The role of the Business Unit is to improve the competitiveness of the existing economic sectors through supporting innovation and commercialisation of technologies and processes. In the long term, the interventions would support the development of new cutting-edge and knowledge-intensive economic sectors and firms.

Business Unit Objectives

  1. Efficient, safe and competitive production: Use advanced technologies to improve process efficiencies from exploration to final product and reduce worker exposure to hazards as well as maintain a competitive mining sector.
  2. Environmental and health management: Support the development of technologies to minimise the impact from mining activities on its workforce, the environment and the community.
  3. Minerals upgrading and value addition: Support the upgrading and value addition of South Africa’s minerals, also by encouraging local manufacturing and production.
  4. Lateral migration: Exploit the knowledge and capacity in the mining sector to create new high value economic sectors.
  5. Innovation culture through skills development: To facilitate the development of innovation skills to support technology innovation and commercialisation.

Technology Focus Areas

  • Mineral Processing
  • Mineral Value Addition
  • Water Resources
  • Environmental and Waste Management 

Contact our Business Unit

Nelisa Kente - Coordinator

Tel: 012 472 2895

Exciting Innovations

Settle Bed Detector

The Settled Bed Detector is being developed by Settec Mining and Industrial Solutions (Pty) Ltd, to develop and perform trial tests of the Settled Bed Detection Probe for the identification of slurry settlement on mines and oil sands industries. The main objective of this technology is to detect slurry settlement in pipes, and electronically relay a message to inform the pump control system to vary the pump speed, thus help avoid and prevent possible pipe blockages from occurring.

In South Africa alone, about 150 million tons of gold and platinum ore mine tailings material is pumped in slurry form to tailings dams per year, often a few kilometres away from the metallurgical plant. To avoid settlement of the tailings during hydraulic transportation, the pipelines are operated with a safety margin above the critical deposition velocity, hence the development of the energy optimiser that this project was based on.

During the testing phase of the energy optimiser, the need for a technology that would minimise or eliminate blockages in slurry pipelines, was established to be more pressing and much desired. While the energy and the water savings that the energy optimiser would bring to the industry were welcome, it ranked lower in the industry list of operational improvement needs. The energy optimiser was therefore modified into a Settled Bed Detector (SBD) to address the industry need to eliminate pipe blockages in slurry pipelines and similar applications.