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Mintek's Advancing Solutions to Address Environmental Challenges in South African Mining

Mintek's Advancing Solutions to Address Environmental Challenges in South African Mining

In the South African mining landscape, contamination of water resources by mining activities has been a persistent concern for decades. Emerging from both abandoned and active mines, the contamination of water with harmful metals and sulphates, poses sustained threats to the environment and public health. Stemming from mineral depletion and large-scale mine closures initiated in the 1970s, the consequences of pollution by mining activities persist today, prompting the need for sustainable remedies.

Mintek, South Africa’s national mineral research organisation, has taken a hands-on approach to addressing the challenges posed by mine impacted water. Guided by its strategic commitment to environmental sustainability, Mintek has introduced to the industry its NICMeRTM membrane, developed in collaboration with the Department of Science and Innovation’s Nanotechnology Innovation Centre (NIC). This low-fouling ultrafiltration membrane not only addresses the harmful metal concentrations inherent in mine impacted water but also extends its applications to the potential reuse of industrial and domestic wastewater. Moreover, this innovative technology purifies raw water to meet potable standards by removing particulates and pathogens, contributing to improved water quality.

Dr Keneiloe Sikhwivhilu, Chief Scientist at Mintek, provides insight into the NICMeRTM membrane: "The enduring impact of mining activities can never be underplayed; its impact on people, animals, and the overall ecological equilibrium requires urgent and impactful solutions. The NICMeRTM membrane maintains constant water quality and can also be used as a stand-alone system, making it extendable beyond the mining operations, ensuring even the most remote areas can benefit from purified water.”

The NICMeRTM membrane also boasts a feature known as a low-fouling design. The term "low-fouling" refers to the membrane's unique resistance to fouling, which is the accumulation of unwanted materials on its surface over time. “In the context of treating mine-impacted water (MIW), a low-fouling design is crucial, as MIW often contains elevated levels of contaminants that can adhere to the membrane's surface” explains Sikhwivhilu.

Talking on this project, Dr Molefi Motuku, Mintek's CEO, outlines its link to the organisation's mandate, emphasising that Mintek's role extends beyond mere economic considerations, stressing the need for the advancement and adoption of technologies that foster the reuse of scarce resources, notably exemplified by water.

"Our strategic focus on water treatment technologies underscores the paramount importance of water reuse—an aspect that cannot be overstated. Through such innovative initiatives, we align Mintek with the overarching national mission to address societal challenges and actively contribute to forging a sustainable and prosperous South Africa. Embracing these technologies isn't merely a luxury; it's a proactive stride towards a resilient and environmentally responsible future. Our commitment extends to collaborating closely with industries, showcasing the tangible impact of this solution and fostering its widespread adoption." He concludes.