Anglo American demonstrates a solution to the looming water crisis in South Africa

Online since 6.02.2017 • Filed under Press Release
Anglo American demonstrates a solution to the looming water crisis in South Africa

Ever since the Romans used fire-setting to break up rocks, mining and water have been inseparable. Today, mining is still heavily dependent on water. Without water, the extraction of copper, platinum group metals, diamonds and other valuable products would be nearly impossible. But water is becoming increasingly scarce: with a predicted shortfall of 40% by 2030, the shortage of clean fresh water represents the greatest global societal and economic risk over the next decade.

Although mining accounts for a comparatively low 3% of South Africa’s water withdrawals, it has a significant role to play in driving efficiencies in this area. Anglo American continuously strives to achieve responsible water stewardship, including recycling as much water as is possible a measure to mitigate the strain on the country’s water resources. 

As a global mining company, we operate in many water scarce environments. Which is why we have set ourselves the goal of striving for a “water-less mine”, and are investing in a number of innovative ways to further conserve—and where possible eliminate—the use of freshly drawn water from our mining processes. In 2015, of our total operational water requirements, 64% were met by our recycling or re-use of water. Our next goal is to increase this level to more than 80% through the innovative application of new and existing technologies, such as coarse particle separation, non-aqueous processing and electro-chemical pre-treatment.

In coal mining specifically, water supply is fundamental, particularly in keeping dust levels down. With nine (9) of Coal SA’s ten (10) collieries situated in the water-challenged Mpumalanga coalfields, the company has implemented a range of initiatives to preserve this critical resource. 

This includes the construction and operation of the eMalahleni Water Reclamation Plant. 'eMalahleni', as it is known, can claim the accolade of being the only mining initiative to be endorsed by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Momentum for Change Initiative at  COP 17 in 2011. 

The plant effectively addresses operational challenges resulting from rising mine water levels and recycling polluted water into the environment.

Water is purified to potable quality by reverse osmosis and is then sent on for use by various nearby Anglo American mines and to the eMalahleni Local Municipality. The plant currently meets around 12% of the water-stressed local municipality’s water requirements through the supply of 16 million litres a day into the Municipal reticulation system. 

Through the use of eMalahleni, Anglo American’s Coal SA business has been able to commit to achieving an overall saving of 11.2% by 2020 through, tough, but realistic target setting.

The eMalahleni Water Reclamation plant was designed with sustainability in mind. It takes into account the remaining 20 to 25 year life of contributing mines, and will cater for post closure liabilities. Ultimately it will help address long-term climate adaptation risks and promote a sustainable future for the region, providing better flexibility and self-sufficiency in terms of water usage, not only for the mines but for the surrounding communities in which we operate.

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