VIASPACE partner Selectra and Harmony Gold Mining Co recently formally announced 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.Harmony is the third largest gold mining company in South Africa, and the fifth largest gold producer in the world.So, 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, bringing value back to the land.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 that developed 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.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 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 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.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.”
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