Anglo American’s Emalahleni water-reclamation plant, 120 km(75 miles) east of Johannesburg, South Africa has successfully transformed waste water from the companies coal mines into drinking water for 80,000 people.
The treatment center provides as much as 12 percent of the area’s municipal drinking supply and has been so successful that Anglo American is going to double the size of the plant while BHP Billiton and Glencore Xstrata are looking to replicate it at their own sites.
The $130 million plant serves as a template for how the industry could treat waste in the future. It also shows how companies and municipalities are finding new ways to confront an increasingly water-stressed planet, Bloomberg reported.
Mines often treat wastewater to some extent yet until the Emalahleni water-reclamation plant, none was of drinking quality. This plant “is a model,” said Marius Keet, acting head of the Department of Water Affairs in the Gauteng region. “It’s a very good example of how it should be done.”
The 30 million liter-a-day (7.9 million gallons) reverse-osmosis plant recovers 99.5 percent of the mine’s wastewater, which will increase to 100 percent after the expansion is completed this year. Seawater desalination plants in comparison have recovery rates of 60 percent to 70 percent, said Thubendran Naidu, hydrology manager at Anglo’s Emalahleni plant.
While Anglo has no immediate plans to build similar plants in its thermal coal business, it’s considering water-treatment operations in its platinum and copper businesses, according to Richard Garner, Anglo’s water manager. The company is the seventh-largest producer of copper and its platinum unit the biggest producer of the metal.
Glencore is building a water-treatment plant in the Middelburg coal-mining area east of Anglo’s with BHP to improve the mine wastewater to an approved level so it can flow into waterways. The plant will be commissioned later this year with a capacity of 20 million liters of water a day, Glencore said. BHP said it’s investing in the Middelburg water plant.
Glencore owns a water-treatment plant similar to Anglo’s that began operations in 2010 east of Emalahleni with a 15 million liter a day capacity. About 20 percent of the drinking water to Hendrina residents is supplied daily by the facility.