VIASPACE Inc. today announced that VIASPACE partner Selectra CC and the Harmony Gold Mining Company Limited of South Africa made a formal announcement of Harmony's implementation of the first bioenergy project on mining property in South Africa.
The goal of the project is to grow energy crops---sugar beets and Giant King Grass--on contaminated mine affected lands in order to restore and rehabilitate the land. Gold-mining is a very large industry in South Africa and there are thousands of acres of mine tailings and mine affected land that need to be restored. The announcement was made by Mr. Leonard Rootman of Harmony Gold Mining Company Limited and Mr. Dwight Rosslee of Selectra at the Renewables and Mining Summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Harmony is the third largest gold mining company in South Africa, and the 5th largest gold producer in the world. Harmony is a publicly listed company on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, the Berlin Stock Exchange, and the New York Stock Exchange.
The project is described in detail in an editorial by Meghan Sapp published on July 14, 2014 on sugaronline.com. The two energy crops included in the project are sugar beets and VIASPACE Giant King Grass. Excerpts from the editorial are reproduced below.
"The world over is full of open mines, retired mines, former mines, illegal mines and tailings. They are an eyesore. Society needed the metal, the diamonds, and the coal, but then what?... It's just dead land. But it doesn't have to be. Not now.
"A small biogas company in South Africa has teamed up with one of the largest mining companies in the country to seriously tackle the issue of land rehabilitation and energy security all in one go.
"What began as an idea and then an enormously successful trial to grow sugarbeet—the temperate kind, not the tropical variety—has now been extended to include Giant King Grass too. The crops are grown on the super-fine mine tailings that nothing grows on, let alone food crops, bringing value back to the land and allowing Mother Nature to do her work cleaning up the land and returning it to an agricultural state just by growing beet and Giant King Grass… Full of toxins, residues, and heavy metals doesn't sound like the most hospitable environment…
"The plan is to use the beet and the king grass as feedstock for on-site biogas production at Harmony Gold's mine near Welkom in South Africa's Free State that will then be piped into the Harmony 1 Metallurgical plant where it will be burnt in the place of 'Polyfuel'—an HFO type fuel—in the thermal oil heaters…
"The project envisioned by Selectra, the growing biogas company who developed, pitched and eventually sold the idea to Harmony Gold, is not only good for the land and good for the region, but it also inherently replicable. Any mine in the world could implement this project, at the appropriate scale with the appropriate feedstocks, to take control of not only environmental impact but also energy costs…
"Benefits from the project are a mile long as well: displacing fossil fuel energy with bioenergy reduces production costs because bioenergy is cheaper than the current costs of fossil-based energy; it reduces the mine's carbon footprint and therefore reduces potential carbon taxes; it reduces redundant infrastructure and impacted land thereby assisting with mine closure; and even creates jobs…
"Renewable energy applications in mining aren't particularly new, but combining with bioenergy and land rehabilitation certainly is. Most solutions have so far focused on solar applications or off-grid gensets, but this is the first project to take undervalued assets and make them work for the mine while getting them back into agricultural production. This is the first such project but it certainly won't be the last."
Dwight Rosslee from Selectra commented on how rewarding it is to develop a project that carries only proven positive impacts: "The Harmony Bioenergy project is surely the gold standard in the production of renewable energy - no negative impacts on the environment, only positive benefits, no question of food versus fuel as the land cannot sustain food crops due to the presence of heavy metals. The land is remediated by cultivation and harvesting of bioenergy crops and local employment in farming activities is expanded on previously unused lands. Simultaneously, carbon emissions are reduced through substituting fossil fuels. All this, and more, while saving on production costs."
VIASPACE CEO, Dr. Carl Kukkonen, stated, "This project is a major milestone. We applaud and congratulate Selectra and Harmony for their successful demonstration. We first delivered Giant King Grass to Selectra in January 2013 and it was planted on Harmony land. We were very apprehensive about the project because the worst mine affected lands called slimes dams were so poor in quality, we didn't even know if Giant King Grass would grow. Selectra and Harmony have proven that Giant King Grass can grow well. The Giant King Grass mitigates erosion and contaminated dust from the slimes dams, and Selectra has shown that it is a good feedstock for anaerobic digestion to produce biogas. We believe that Giant King Grass can be used to remediate a wide range of contaminated soil and to make it productive. This will be another business opportunity for VIASPACE. We welcome others interested in biological remediation to contact VIASPACE."
Mr. Rosslee concluded, "Giant King Grass should have a bright future in South Africa and other African countries as it plays a critical role in a number of our programs including off grid power solutions."