Lephalale, which means ‘to flow’ in Setswana, is a coal mining town in Limpopo located immediately east of the Waterberg Coalfield and west of the Mokolo river. The local economy is supported by mining, tourism, agriculture and electricity production.
Grootgeluk Coal Mine is situated 20km from Lephalale and is owned by Exxaro. It is a large open-pit mining operation and the main mining method used is conventional truck and shovel operation. Semi-soft coking coal, thermal coal and metallurgical coal can all be produced at this mine. After initial blasting takes place the coal is excavated and then hauled by the operation’s extensive fleet of trucks to the nearby processing plant for washing and dense media separation. Thermal coal is primarily sold to Eskom and transported directly to the nearby Medupe power station using a conveyor belt system, while the semi-soft coking coal and metallurgical coal are dispatched to both local and international customers via railway.
The mine has an estimated minable coal reserve of 3 261Mt and a total measured coal resource of 4 719Mt. Because of its vast coal reserves, Lephalale is often touted as the ‘the future of power generation in South Africa’. In fact, the town is situated in the middle of one of the biggest development projects in South Africa, including the new Medupi Power Station.
The Thabametsi mine is a greenfield mine located to the West of the current Grootegeluk mine and will exploit coal from the central part of the Waterberg Coalfield. On completion of the project, the Thabametsi mine will supply approximately 3.9 million tonnes per annum of run-of-mine coal, in order to service the 600MW Thabametsi IPP in the Waterberg.
Matimba is one of the power stations in the area, and comprises a dry-cooled coal-fired plant. Power generation capacity equals a total of 3 990 MW. Thanks to the dry-cooling method used by the plant, water consumption is lower than that of wet-cooling systems. It is also the largest dry-cooled power station in the world. Coal is supplied directly to the station using an overland conveyor system. The other major coal fired power plant is Medupi, which means ‘gentle rain.’ The Lephalale area was chosen by Eskom as the location for the power station due to the abundant coal reserves and water supply as well as the competitive coal prices and low environmental impact on the site. Generation capacity consists of six units supplying a total of 4 800 MW of power. Like Matimba, it is a dry-cooled plant, and when completed it will exceed Matimba in size and power supply.