Anthracite – the rock aristocrat

Johannesburg, 1 June 2018 – Although many classify anthracite as a coal, technically they’re inaccurate.  With its low levels of sulphur and other impurities, and because it’s mostly made up of 70% free carbon, this hard rock should rather be classed as a carbon product and not a coal product.

What’s more, anthracite rock’s elevated exposure to intense pressures and temperatures gives it a high energy density, which allows for its exceptional heat value. It also accounts for about 1% of the world’s coal reserves, and generally costs two to three times as much as regular coal.

In fact, anthracite is earth’s quintessential rock superstar.   It burns cleaner and hotter than any other coal type, and industries all over the world are scrambling to get it.

Governments today are also actively encouraging its use in their private sectors.  As a vital component in the production of chemicals, plastics and energy, anthracite has become an indispensable commodity. More importantly, as the global demand for steel increases, so does the demand for anthracite.  Take the U.S. for instance, with President Donald Trump’s attempts at returning the country’s steel production to its former glory days, anthracite has all of a sudden become highly sought after. Yet, anthracite is a finite resource, with only so much left to be mined globally.  Found mostly in the eastern part of the U.S. it makes up less than 2% of all coal reserves in the country. Smaller amounts are also mined in Australia, western Canada, China, and a few other countries.

The process of using anthracite involves injecting it directly into the furnace along with hot air. This method reduces the amount of coking coal needed in the first stage of production, thereby improving the quality of the metal produced.  In addition, the production of high quality ferrometals is dependent on using anthracite with low levels of sulphur and phosphate.

The global demand for metallurgical anthracite in 2016 was estimated at 115 Megaton (Mt), with the ferrous sector accounting for over 80%.  By comparison, South Africa’s anthracite demand in 2016 was 2.1Mt of which 98% was consumed by non-ferrous sectors.

Until fairly recently it was generally viewed that South Africa has limited commercially viable anthracite resources and that we’ve become dependent on imports.  That seems to now have changed with the successful redevelopment of Nkomati Anthracite by Unicorn Capital Partners.

According to Unicorn CEO, Jacques Badenhorst, Nkomati Anthracite will soon be in a position to deliver a substantial portion of South Africa’s anthracite needs over time. Already the mine has in excess of 8.7 million tons of proven resources.

In April this year Nkomati started drilling 43 additional exploration holes which will be completed by the end of June.  In itself this will help double the life of the mine. Most importantly, when compared to other local mines, Nkomati’s anthracite is of a particular high grade due its low level of impurities and high levels of fixed carbon (up to 86% and more).

Currently Samancor and Glencore are the two main anthracite buyers in South Africa – with Glencore requiring around 70 000 tonnes a month and Samancor 35 000 – 50 000 tonnes.  In total, there’s an estimated local consumption of 150,000 – 200,000 tonnes per month.

Nkomati Anthracite top producer of quality anthracite in South Africa

Anthracite’s promising future in South Africa

According to Badenhorst, Nkomati’s immediate goal is to produce 25% of all anthracite’s local demand.

“With the completion of Nkomati’s recent expansion project, the 90,000 Run-of-Mine ton per month wash plant, open pit and underground mine, currently Nkomati is 70% on track in achieving the 25% goal.  By all appearances it will be reached by the end of 2018.”

“Looking ahead, over the next 3-5 years Nkomati’s target is to produce as much as 40% of South Africa’s anthracite needs and to also be in a position to supply to the international market,” says Badenhorst.

Nkomati Anthracite

Nkomati Anthracite is situated in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa. As at 30 June 2017 the total Inferred, Indicated and Measured reserves amounted to 8.7 million tonnes. Anthracite is produced as a coke blend for domestic and export consumption, from opencast and underground operations. Unicorn holds 50.3%, Mpumalanga Economic Growth Agency (MEGA) 33.6% and the local community 16.1% of the shareholding of Nkomati.

The anthracite resource is huge, stretching over eleven thousand hectares. However, our current open pit and underground operations cover less than four hundred hectares.