As South Africa suffers its worst drought since 1982 mining companies must look at ways to alleviate stress on local water resources or risk damaging the relationships mine owners need to build and maintain with the local communities. While mines can be beneficial to an area, bringing employment and support for the local economy, they are often situated in areas where there is already significant water stress. At the same time the mining sector is experiencing and economic downturn and is constantly looking for opportunities to reduce operational cost.

The water requirements of mining activities can often lead to a large increase in water stress in the surrounding towns and rural communities. This effect is being exacerbated by the fact that 2015 and 2016 have been the driest years since records began in 1904 with recent low rainfall levels blamed on the El Nino effect.

Treating mine water can improve its quality for mineral processing but another conflict arises when this water cannot be cleaned to a high enough standard for the mining communities to access as drinking water. The expenditure by mine operators in cleaning this mine water adds greatly to the operating costs, placing greater economic strain on a sector already struggling financially.

Sibanye Gold is one of South Africa’s most profitable mining companies, an achievement they manage to combine with a reputation for taking their social responsibilities seriously. Using an innovative water treatment process - Crystalactor®  technology  - it is producing potable water which not only  supplies  the mine’s water requirements, but can eventually supplement the local water supply thus alleviating water stress in surrounding communities.

The Crystalactor® cost-effective water solution with low operational and maintenance costs resulting in a significant cost saving to the mine. This technology allows the Sibanye Gold mine to treat and re-use mine water at approximately half the cost of drinking water from the local water supplier, Rand Water.

Hard rock mining conventionally uses vast quantities of water: stemming from ground water ingress into the mine shafts that needs pumping out or water needed for cooling, dust suppression or metallurgical processes. Since mine shafts are typically below the ground water level, the mine needs to be continuously dewatered to prevent flooding. The mine water from dewatering activities can be treated to a re-use or potable quality that be used to supplement/replace the mine’s potable water demand or supply surrounding communities with drinking water. In this way, the mine may become a source of fresh water supply rather than a consumer.  

The Crystalactor® technology softens and treats hard mine water to the SANS 241 drinking water standard.  It forms the core of the water treatment plant at the Sibanye Gold mine to the west of Johannesburg.  This project is a good example where Royal HaskoningDHV has been involved in  a sustainable water project seeking to alleviate water stress in South Africa. Crystalactor® technology is developed and licensed by Royal HaskoningDHV and was brought online in February 2016.

Now fully operational at the Sibanye Gold mine it is the first commercial scale Crystalactor® plant in Africa. Water Care Mining introduced Royal HaskoningDHV’s innovative Crystalactor® technology.

The installation of the plant highlights not only the recognition of the need to increase efficiencies in the mining sector to ensure that mines can remain profitable, but also the need to address the short and long term effect s of drought and water scarcity on both mines and local communities.

By employing more innovative and sustainable solutions to water scarcity, mining companies can have a positive impact on local communities while also helping secure their long term sustainability.