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More manganese on the move

Home Infrastructure More manganese on the move

INCREASING volumes of manganese ore, mined in the Kalari Basin in the Northern Cape, over 1 000 km away from the Port of Port Elizabeth, head for China, India and the rest of the world, where it is processed and used mainly in the production of steel and, increasingly, in batteries. With an expected exponential increase in demand for battery electric vehicles (BEVs), the world will look to South Africa for increased supply.

It’s estimated that South Africa hosts between 70% to 80% of the world’s identified manganese reserves. Yet the country only accounts for approximately 45% of the global manganese market share in terms of exports.

According to the Minerals Council, a total of 18,96 million tonnes, valued at R48-billion was produced in the country in 2022. Of that, 87,5% was exported.

Rail logistics

Although he says miners might disagree, rail expert, the University of Stellenbosch’s Dr Jan Havenga says that manganese is “one of the big success stories of our railway”. The manganese export line between Hotazel and the Port of Port Elizabeth was built in 1976.

“The railway has managed to increase throughput of export manganese from 1,4 million tons in 1992 to 1,6 million tons in 2002, to 6,1 million tons in 2012, and to 14,2 million tons in 2022,” he says.

But rail has not been able to keep up with the volumes of manganese heading for the ports. Managing director of Menar, an investment company with mining assets, Vuslat Bayoglu, shared on social media that increasing volumes of manganese are hauled by truck freight after demand overtook supply for rail haulage “six years ago”. His estimates show that 7,3 Mt of manganese were hauled by road in 2022 and 14,3 Mt by rail. Rail volumes have remained largely static since 2019, while road freight has increased steadily from 3,1 Mt in 2019.

Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) said in April that it has more than doubled its manganese corridor’s total capacity, between the Northern Cape and Gqeberha, increasing progressively from 4,9 million tons in 2012 to 9,7 million tons in 2023.

In July, TFR also completed the construction of the Mamathwane Crossing Loop in the Northern Cape and said the completion of the loop “will unlock several key projects”.

TFR said that the completion of the loop translates to a potential 1,5 million tons of additional capacity. The construction of the loop will capacitate export efficiency in both the manganese and ore corridors, it said.

The longer-term expansion project will increase manganese volumes from 16 million tons to 22 million tons by 2027/28, according to TFR.

TFR moves most of its export manganese by operating 104 wagon trains to Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) and 125 wagon trains to Saldanha, both of which conjoin on the Sishen to Hotazel line. The completion of the Mamathwane project decongests this section and allows for an additional four rail slots per week, thus enabling further volumes.

TFR says that the East London rail solution, made possible by the completed loop, will originate from the mines and run to the Port of East London. Apart from the economic spin-offs, the project will result in the estimated removal of 40 540 trucks off the roads per annum.

Port logistics

Road freight has taken up the logistics deficit left by rail in getting manganese to the ports. But, once there, there is no operating alternative to Transnet Port Terminals (TPT). The Port of Port Elizabeth is the main point of export for manganese. The Minerals Council estimated that 66% of the country’s manganese went through this port in 2022, and 22% through Saldanha Bay.

The Port of East London

In response to TFR’s plans to rail manganese to the Port of East London, TPT says that the East London multi-purpose terminal is setting up a back-of-port facility that will see the commencement of the handling of manganese exports in the 2023/2024 financial year. The terminal is increasing its warehousing and storage capacity to 90 000 metric tons. When the operation starts, vessels calling monthly are expected to load between 30 000 to 40 000 metric tons of export manganese.

The Port of Port Elizabeth

According to Transnet’s Port Development Framework Plans 2022/3, 5,4 Mtpa of manganese were handled at the Port of Port Elizabeth in 2021/2 and the installed capacity is 6 Mtpa. The Port of Port Elizabeth also exports manganese using skip operations at the multi-purpose terminal berths and skiptainer operations at the container terminal.

The plan accepts that “in the short-term, Transnet National Port Authority’s (TNPA) forecast volume exceeds the capacity, and the excess volumes will be exported through various channels opened by Transnet i.e., the ports of Ngqura, Saldanha Bay, Richards Bay, Cape Town and Durban, all using multi-purpose terminals, handling manganese as break-bulk. Based on the long-term demand forecast, the manganese terminal will be moved to the Port of Ngqura by 2027.

Questions regarding the handling and storage of manganese in the Nelson Mandela Metro (NMBM) were directed to the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy in Parliament in May this year. The activities of two companies, in particular, were queried. She responded that these activities fall within the Municipality’s by-laws and that questions should be directed to the NMBM.

The NMBM responded (after the publication of the PDF edition). Vuka Mzansi Holdings has ceased operating. Director of communications at NMBM, Sithembiso Soyaya says that the company was found to be operating without the required environmental health authorisation and instructed to cease. The facility complied, before closing down.

The other company singled out, Tradekor, “has valid environmental authorisation issued by the NMBM and is compliant with the conditions of approval,” says Soyaya.

The Port of Ngqura

Since its official opening in 2012, a dry bulk facility for manganese has been planned for the Port of Ngqura. On Transnet’s plans, this facility will add 16 Mtpa capacity to Eastern Cape ports. As recently as May 2022, Transnet’s spokesperson said construction activities will be completed by 2026, with operations set to commence by mid-July, 2027.

There has been no news of progress, although the Coega Development Corporation says that it has been appointed by Transnet to provide implementing agency services on the development of a new manganese export terminal at the Port of Ngqura and that work in that regard is progressing well. Transnet has not provided any further details.

Meanwhile, at the 5th South African Investment Conference in April, the Newlyn Group committed R4-billion for the development of a manganese terminal using patented silo technology for dust suppression at the Port of Ngqura.

The Durban-based developers of transformational logistics and storage infrastructure, says that, together with global OEMs Eurosilo and Bruks Siwertell, it has developed proprietary technology for what will become the world’s first near-zero dust emissions mineral ore back-of-port export terminal with superior operating efficiencies.

The company says that its design for the back-of-port storage and handling of mineral ore is entirely closed to the environment.

“The efficient design involves rapid unloading of the train and movement of manganese via piped conveyor to specialised silos which are equipped with mechanical systems for soft handling of ore. Thereafter, ore is accurately discharged from the silos via pipe conveyors to the ship-loaders at a loading rate of up to 10 000 tons per hour. As a result, ship-loading can be achieved in less than a day compared to the current 5-6 days.

“This significantly reduces demurrage for miners, improves train turnaround times and most importantly will serve to debottleneck the existing heavy-haul rail line from the Northern Cape,” according to the company website.

Newlyn says that its proposed back-of-port solution for manganese in Coega will perfectly dovetail with Transnet’s proposed plans. It will serve to accelerate the relocation of manganese exports from Gqeberha to Ngqura and is designed to augment Transnet’s proposed manganese export terminal in Ngqura.

Chief value officer, Firdhose Coovadia is optimistic that the development will get the go-ahead from Transnet.

Other ports

With so much pressure on port logistics, miners are also looking at other options. The Namibian port of Luderitz, for example, exported around 750 000 tons of manganese last year, and there are plans to expand to 2,2 million tons.

In August last year, TNPA floated the idea of a new deep-water port at Boegoebaai, on the West Coast between Alexander Bay and Port Nolloth. The project took a step forward last week when TNPA announced a short-list of three consortia to participate in a bidding process to design, fund and construct a greenfield deep-water port at Boegoebaai, as well as rail infrastructure linking the port to mines in the Northern Cape.

*Edited and updated on 2 August 2023.

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