South Africa’s largest coal producer and black empowered mining group, Exxaro, announced its new Belfast coal mine will start producing high-grade thermal coal six months earlier than expected.

The mine was only expected to start producing coal in 2020. This was after breaking ground in July 2018 at the R3.3 billion mine, first-of-its-kind digital mine, according to the company. The mine ranks as the last good-quality A-grade, high-yield coal deposit in Mpumalanga, where construction began in November 2017, according to Exxaro.

The LOM (Life of Mine) of the Belfast mine is 17 years, making it a high value-add coal project in the Mpumalanga region.   

With an immediate focus, the Belfast plant will primarily produce A-Grade, export-quality coal (typical 6,000 kcal/kg) at a projected volume of 2.2 million metric tons per year (mtpy), and a secondary-quality product (typical 21.5 MJ/kg) for local use or export of approximately 0.5 mtpy. 

“The mine will be able to produce 2.7 million mt of good-quality thermal coal a year for at least the next 17 years, starting in 2020, in the first phase of development,” Lazarus Ramashilabele, business unit manager, said. “There is also potential for a second phase, depending on market conditions, which could take the life of the mine to 30 years.”

Executive head of projects, Johan Meyer, said, “The project and operations teams have managed to successfully accelerate and produce the first RB1 product ahead of schedule and well within budget and with no lost time due to injuries. The project’s safety record makes the fast-tracking of RB1 production from Exxaro’s new coal mine even more remarkable.”

At the onset of the project, Exxaro partnered with construction contractors to deliver the project safely with no lost time injuries. The project has achieved 4.6 million lost time injury (LTI) free hours to date.

Ramashilabele said as a digitally connected mine, Belfast maintenance teams can remotely monitor and track all the devices and access performance data. The maintenance teams are connected to specific equipment and machinery, so they can pick up problems early.