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AECOM delivers integrated infrastructure services for the mining sector
10 September 2018
AECOM delivers integrated infrastructure services for the mining sector

Integrated infrastructure delivery company AECOM is well-poised to make inroads into the mining industry. From roads to airports, ports, and power-grid upgrades, all such infrastructure ultimately has an impact on the mining industry.

AECOM specialises in comprehensive engineering solutions for pit-to-port mining projects, Dr. Kim le Roux, Managing Director, Environment and Ground Engineering for Africa, comments. “This allows our clients to focus on their core business, which is mining.”

Dr. le Roux points out that AECOM is a global leader in major infrastructure development. “This capability allows us to cater for every aspect of mining, apart from minerals-processing plants, and the actual mine development.” In this regard, AECOM works with longstanding global partners.

“Depending on the scope of the project in hand, we can align with our partners in the form of an engineering association, either as a sub-contractor or as a joint venture partner, so we can supply a total solution,” Dr. le Roux explains. The life-of-mine is divided into distinct stages: from concept stage and prefeasibility to detail design and construction, mine operations itself and, ultimately, closure and rehabilitation.

“Consultants such as ourselves play a large role during the initial phases up to commencement of operations, simply due to our expertise in project implementation and management. In most instances, mining companies lack the skill set and engineering capabilities in this regard, as it is not their core business,” Dr. le Roux highlights.

This presents major opportunities for companies like AECOM to become involved in the entire project process, from initiation to planning, detailed design and construction, which includes managing contractors and sub-contractors.

Once construction is complete and the minerals-processing plant has been commissioned, the mining company assumes full responsibility for the operation. At this point, the consultant’s role is mainly to provide technical advice, or to assist in the event of any de-bottlenecking and upgrades, which can be required if the nature and/or extent of the mineral deposit alters.

In terms of mine closure, Dr. le Roux stresses the importance of such planning being initiated at least five years in advance, as it involves expert input from environmental consultants and mine-closure planners.

“At the end of the day, consultants provide vital checks and balances for mines to ensure they remain compliant with the relevant environmental and regulatory requirements,” Dr. le Roux elaborates. Upfront planning and positioning can also help to reduce mine-closure costs.

With the South African mining industry faced with funding and legislative constraints, in addition to the global slump in commodity prices, Dr. le Roux adds that many companies like AECOM are looking to the rest of Africa to sustain their growth in, and involvement with, the mining industry.

“There are still Greenfield mining projects in the rest of Africa, and hence most local companies are vying for opportunities elsewhere on the continent. In particular, there is a great demand in Africa for project management and engineering capabilities, which an integrated infrastructure delivery company like AECOM is able to leverage to great effect.”

However, Dr. le Roux cautions that competition is fierce from well-established Canadian and Australian players, who are putting down extensive roots in Africa. What is critical here is that many mining houses are headquartered in these territories, which means it is incumbent on South African companies to be as cost-effective as possible.

The South African economy stands to benefit greatly from foreign direct investment inflows if mining projects elsewhere on the continent are managed from South Africa. “This will definitely boost local growth and skills development,” Dr. le Roux stresses. In addition, it is vital for South Africa to increase local beneficiation and ramp up its own commodity exports.

“Local exports need to be bolstered significantly by developing new mining projects, and extending the life-of-mine of others,” Dr. le Roux urges. This is particularly challenging in commodities such as gold, because South Africa’s gold reserves are becoming ever-deeper and more difficult to mine. While coal and iron-ore prices have improved of late, the current global oversupply does dampen any Greenfield projects in these sectors.

Manganese prices have also rallied, but the infrastructure at Ngqura Port in the Eastern Cape needs to be improved dramatically to boost the logistics of the largescale export of this commodity. “We have to bear in mind that the period from the initial announcement of a new mining project to delivery of the first product is a few years. There is a highly onerous approvals process that needs to be adhered to in this regard.” Another major cause of concern for new mine developments is the delay in issuing mining licences, Dr. le Roux concludes.

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