Canyon Coal: playing in the big league

The development of Canyon Coal’s Khanye Colliery has elevated the company from a junior miner to a mid-tier producer, writes Leon Louw.

 

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Although the coal at Khanye is shallow, the geology presents several challenges.

 

Khanye Colliery, close to Bronkhorstspruit in Gauteng, will be Canyon Coal’s fourth mine in 10 years and is set to produce 200 000 tonnes of coal per month (tpm) when in full production. In addition to its current four operating mines, Canyon plans to bring another seven projects into production in the coming years. The company opened its first coal mine in South Africa, Hakhano Colliery, close to Middelburg in Mpumalanga, 10 years ago and shortly thereafter, developed Phalanndwa Colliery, near Delmas, also in Mpumalanga. Including its extension, Phalanndwa has a total resource of nine million tonnes (Mt) of coal, which means it will still produce coal for the next seven years.

Production at Khanye has commenced and when Mining Mirror visited the site recently, work was in full swing on the open pit, processing plant, and all the associated infrastructure. Khanye has a total resource of 39Mt and has a life of 15 years. With a remaining resource of only about one million tonnes per annum (Mtpa) at the current Hakhano site (one-year life of mine), the opening of Khanye is perfectly timed. In addition, Canyon owns two proven reserves close to Hakhano that, on approval of the relevant statutory requirements, will supplement the current production rate.

According to Vuslat Bayoglu, executive chairman at Canyon Coal, the current production of 320 000tpm will double output when Khanye — and Ukufisa, another project in the pipeline — comes online in 2018. “We are also planning to bring the second phase of Ukufisa online in 2019, boosting coal production by another 400 000tpm and increasing Canyon Coal’s production to more than 10Mtpa,” says Bayoglu.

Ukufisa promises to be an interesting project, as it is located in the Springs area of Gauteng, a part of South Africa better known for its gold mines. Despite the obvious challenges of mining where gold miners have already made a significant impact (the mine is close to the historical Grootvlei gold mine), Ukufisa holds a lot of promise. The two-phased project has a combined coal resource of 180Mt and the expected life of mine is 36 years. Some of the other projects that Canyon Coal is targeting are Witfontein (resource of 69.3Mt), De Wittekrans (resource of 118Mt), and Springfield (resource of 307Mt). Most of the coal produced by Canyon will be exported.  

Third coal mine in Bronkhorstspruit

Khanye is adjacent to the new Chilwavhusiku coal mine brought into production earlier this year by new junior miner Black Royalty Minerals. According to Alan Mabbett, general manager at Phalanndwa Colliery, the coal seams in the Bronkhorstspruit area have distinctive characteristics, totally different from the seams typically found in the Witbank coalfields. Mining is still new in Bronkhorstspruit, and Khanye is only the third mine to start operating in the area, while Khanye and Chilwavhusiku are now the only two operating coal mines in Gauteng. The other coal operation close to Bronkhorstspruit is the Palesa thermal coal mine, also known as Loopspruit, owned by private entity Hosken Consolidated Investments. Palesa, however, falls within the boundaries of the province of Mpumalanga.

“The geology between the Bronkhorstspruit operations and those in the Delmas, Middelburg, and eMalahleni regions differs substantially. Even the terminology is different. At Khanye, the 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 seams so typical of the Witbank coalfield are not as pronounced, and we only mine three seams (1, 2, and 3 seams, in Witbank geological terms). The coal is also of a different quality,” says Mabbett.

A view of the Bronkhorstspruit area from Khanye Colliery. Khanye will be the second operating coal mine in Gauteng. Earthworks are nearing completion at Canyon Coal’s Khanye project in Bronkhorstspruit. From left: Mark Berger (managing director at Isimilo), Clifford Hallatt (mine development and exploration manager at Canyon Coal), and Alan Mabbett (general manager at Phalanndwa Colliery). Work on the infrastructure at Khanye is making good progress and the mine is on target to deliver its first coal within the next few months.Work on the infrastructure at Khanye is making good progress and the mine is on target to deliver its first coal within the next few months.Preparation work on the site where the main processing plant will be located.

Photos by Leon Louw

Transporting the sellable product   

Coal from Khanye will be railed for export to Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT) on the east coast of South Africa. There is a rail siding about 6.5km from site but, according to Mabbett, the company needs to undertake earthworks and upgrades to get the siding up and running again. A coal mining company ideally should have access to a siding within at least a 50km radius from site. This reduces transport costs significantly.

Canyon Coal has a Quattro allocation of 175 000 tonnes at RBCT, a dry bulk terminal allocation of 750 000 tonnes, another at ‘South Dunes’ of 700 000 tonnes, and an additional emerging miner’s allocation of one million tonnes, which gives Canyon Coal a total coal allocation of more than 2.6 million tonnes per annum at RBCT. An allocation of 2.6 million tonnes at Richards Bay is substantial, considering the 80 million tonnes of coal that is moved there every year by all the mining houses across South Africa. “With all Canyon Coal’s other projects coming online within the next two years, it is our medium- to long-term objective to get more space allotted to us,” says Clifford Hallatt, mine development and exploration manager at Canyon Coal.

Because of the inherent qualities of coal in the Bronkhorstspruit area, Khanye’s product will not be sold to the typical markets. China is mining a sizable percentage of their own coal and is on a renewable drive. The result has been a drop in demand from China as the country commissions new coal operations. The quality of coal exported to India is of course exactly what South African power utility Eskom’s power stations require, with the result that Eskom will increasingly have to compete with countries like India and Pakistan in terms of price.    

Exposing the seams

When Mining Mirror visited the site earlier this year, Canyon Coal’s mining team had already exposed part of the top seam, which is shallow at between 12m and 15m below surface. At that stage, the earthmoving team had already removed between 250 000m³ and 300 000m³ of topsoil to access the coal. In Witbank geological terms, the Khanye top seam would be named seam 3, which is fragmented throughout the reserve. The other two seams at Khanye is known as the number 2 seam, consisting of a 2-upper and 2-lower seam, as well as the number 1 seam. Some geologists refer to it as the top, middle and bottom seams.

According to Mark Berger, managing director at Isimilo, a subsidiary of Canyon Coal and the company responsible for the construction of the processing plant, the company is installing a smaller interim plant until the main plant will be completed in September. “The interim plant consists of a crushing plant and a small washing plant, which is a mini version of the main plant. As the coal becomes available, it is crushed, washed, and then a portion of it is blended with the sellable product,” explains Berger. The interim solution’s washing plant is being refurbished and will start washing coal from the stockpiles early in May.      

“In the interim, we will crush to minus 50mm, so the sellable product will be everything below that. There are two stages of crushing, but the top size is 50mm. The main plant, however, has been designed to be more flexible, and will produce large nuts, small nuts, peas, duff, and everything in between,” says Berger.

The contractor has deployed several ADTs on site to undertake preliminary work at the mine. The mining contractor at work on the Khanye project. The contractor is responsible for all the logistics. They provide tipper trucks, handle the discard, and load the trucks and the trains.Earlier this year, the earthmoving team had already removed between 250 000m³ and 300 000m³ of topsoil to access the coal. Earlier this year, the earthmoving team had already removed between 250 000m³ and 300 000m³ of topsoil to access the coal. The mine uses a number of Bell ADTs on site.

Photos by Leon Louw

Technology adds value

Berger adds that instead of a drum spiral cyclone module typically used in coal processing plants, the plant at Khanye will make use of large coal dense medium separators (Larcodems). Larcodems are cylinder cyclones designed to beneficiate feed material sized from 0.5mm to a top size of 150mm. The Larcodems are gravity fed and, unlike cyclones, introduce the medium and the coal separately. “That enables us to dry transport the coal to the top with a conveyor into a bin and, in turn, into the Larcodems, which treats all the different size fractions,” says Berger. This is unlike a typical plant where a certain size fraction has to be put through the drum, a certain fraction through the cyclone, and the fines through the spirals. In the Larcodems, it is split at once and then screened into the different size fractions at the other side.    

“The coal at Khanye is slightly more brittle than usual and we need to reduce the handling that results in unnecessary breakage. Trying to put coal through a pump and then get it up to a cyclone will result in fracturing, and the Larcodems process eliminates that risk. In the design we have also allowed for a second Larcodems that will be able to split smaller fractions,” says Berger.

To keep the revenue flowing, some of the run of mine (ROM) being stockpiled at Khanye before the processing plants are commissioned (first the interim and then the main plant), will be transported to the Phalanndwa plant near Delmas, where it will be washed. The construction of the two plants will take, according to Mabbett, at least another three to four months to complete.

A unique partnership

Although Isimilo can be regarded as a contractor, the company is really part of the Canyon Coal stable. However, Berger says that in a unique partnership, Isimilo can also undertake contract work at other mining sites. The long-term vision at Canyon Coal is that they will eventually undertake all work in-house, although they are still using Koza as a mining contractor at Khanye. “At Khanye, we need six teams of equipment — a team meaning an excavator, articulated dump trucks (ADTs), and all the other equipment associated with it. Four teams are Canyon’s own teams and two will be Khoza’s teams,” says Mabbett. A team consists of a supervisor and a number of operators.

In total, there will be six excavators, three or four ADTs per excavator (thus 24 ADTs), and several pieces of ancillary equipment like dozers and graders. Currently, the mine is using an 870 Hitachi excavator, Bell B40 ADTs, Komatsu dozers, a Bell 770 grader, and two 23 000-litre Bell water bowsers.  

The northern pit at Khanye. The mine will have two pits, namely the northern and the southern pit. The top seam at the northern pit exposed at about 12.5m. Although the coal at Khanye is shallow, the geology presents several challenges. While work is underway at Khanye, Black Royalty Minerals has started production at Chilwavhusiku, a stone’s throw from Khanye. Chilwavhusiku is in the background. In total, there will be six excavators, three or four ADTs per excavator (thus 24 ADTs), and several pieces of ancillary equipment like dozers and graders. Currently, the mine is using an 870 Hitachi excavator, Bell B40 ADTs, Komatsu dozers, a Bell 770 grader, and two 23 000-litre Bell water bowsers.

Photos by Leon Louw

Geology presents challenges

Hallatt says the three seams at Khanye differ in quality and, depending on the customer requirements, the product will have to be a blend of all three seams. “The upper seam disappears in certain areas, which then leaves us with only the middle and lower seams (or 1 and 2 seams),” says Hallatt.

The deepest part of the opencast mine at Kanye will be about 76m; however, due to the seam thickness, it will still be mined economically. “Where we have started mining now, the pit will only be about 45m deep, with an extremely low stripping ratio. The overall project strip ratio is 2:1. However, there are a few areas in the pit where the seam dips down to about 70m, and that will naturally increase the stripping ratio,” says Hallatt. When the mine reaches full production, there will be two pits, namely a northern and a southern pit. The northern pit currently consists of two box cuts. These two box cuts will eventually merge into one big pit.

Hallatt mentions that there are a few geological challenges in the pit, but nothing that cannot be overcome. “For example, there is a geological occurrence (basement high) between the northern and southern pits where the coal was never formed. We have done extensive drilling and determined that the middle section (the dead spot) is a geological anomaly, so we have delineated the potential problem areas adequately,” says Mabbett. The other challenge will be to control the strip ratio where the seams dip to 70m below surface.

Canyon Coal has firmly established itself as a significant mid-tier player in the coal mining industry of South Africa and is set to make further inroads in the future. Be sure to scribble down the name as competition in the South African coal sector heats up.



      

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