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Chemicals and explosives group AECI says it is expanding its water treatment technologies into mines in Africa, after a successful run of its latest water purification applications that have helped two local mines to save 2.2-billion litres of water annually.        

There are about 200 mines in water-scarce SA, and the entire mining sector collectively consumes 2%-5% of SA’s available water, according to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Reseaerch (CSIR).

In a statement on Monday, the diversified Johannesburg-based group said its water business unit, AECI Water, is focused on taking the mining industry off the potable grid — which is intended to have economic, social and environmental benefits for all citizens and businesses.

This comes as the group reported it is treating and reusing fissure water through desalination processes at a platinum mine in North West. AECI Water has also been treating and reusing water through proprietary chemical technology at a deep-level gold mine, also in North West.

It said this treated water was being used in high-temperature cooling systems while safeguarding asset integrity, adding that “a range of similar work is happening in Africa and will be released shortly”.

“About 2.2-billion litres of water are being saved by two mines and we’re just getting started,” said the AECI Water executive Dean Mulqueeny.

“If every mine saved 1-billion litres of water, the resulting 200-billion litres of water will be enough to fill 88,000 Olympic-size swimming pools or supply 2.5-million South Africans with 237 litres of water a day for a year.

A provider of process and water treatment chemicals, equipment and services to the mining and minerals processing industry in Africa, AECI Water develops integrated solutions for asset integrity, reduced risk and regulatory compliance with a strong focus on minimising water usage and waste while achieving zero harm.

Water is a crucial element of the mining process used in the extraction of minerals from solid or liquid sources, while underground coal mines rely on water to reduce the hazard of fires or explosions and dust, by using it to cool the cutting surfaces of mining equipment and prevent coal dust from catching fire.

In SA, water boards provide bulk potable and wastewater to water-service institutions within their respective service areas.

Mulqueeny said by applying new water management principles and technologies more readily — this includes recycling and reusing water, improving discharged water quality, and a shift from using potable water for everything to applying appropriate water qualities for specific applications — mining houses are able to reap the benefits.

The 99-year-old company said repurposing groundwater for agricultural purposes or treating it to potable specifications would also shore up water availability for communities located in the surroundings of the mines for social responsibility and upliftment programmes.

The R9.5bn chemicals maker, which was first listed on the JSE in 1966, operates multiple businesses in 26 countries on six continents, supplying to mining, agri-health, water and chemical industries. AECI’s share price fell 2.15% to R90.24 in Monday’s trade.

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