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Turning acid mine drainage into a solution for water and energy shortages

“According to Dr Anthony Turton, director of Touchstone Resources, consideration should be given to studying the economic feasibility of ‘mining’ South Africa’s problematic acid mine drainage (AMD) and wastewater (mentioned in the December 2010 Scan) for metals, minerals, salt and even hydrogen. Turton is a protagonist not only of ‘mining’ AMD, but also the water in sewage works and obtaining phosphate, which is crucial for food security, as a by product. Turton favours consideration being given to the use of ion-exchange technology to remove the metals and minerals. He advocates that the large volume of salt that becomes available in processing AMD should be considered for use in concentrated solar power plants.

“There is also the prospect of AMD being considered as a feedstock for a hydrogen economy, with the possibility of using renewable energy to provide the electricity to crack water into its hydrogen and oxygen parts. In correcting the mispricing of water, a cue can be taken from the successful water project in eMalahleni, where an Anglo American-BHP Billiton joint venture is turning AMD into drinking water at R10 to R12/m3 (US $1.50 - $1.80/m3). “If we look at a realistic price of water, suddenly the AMD problem goes from being a problem into becoming a major asset,” Turton comments to Mining Weekly Online. He believes that a well-considered government policy pronouncement can create the enabling environment for venture capital to be attracted into experimental AMD/wastewater ventures.

“According to their website TouchStone Resources (Pty) Ltd is a ‘social entrepreneur’ that is engaged in prospecting for, and developing New Energy and New Water resources, in order to enable the levels of socio-economic activity that will be needed within southern Africa. Their focus is on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) area, because the limitations to economic development and social well-being across the entire region are constrained by similar resources - water and energy.”

Implications from Institute for the Future:
TouchStone Resources is perhaps the embodiment of the future of development. As a self-proclaimed social entrepreneur their work will be self-sustainable through profit driven motives while helping to solve a major problem within their communities. TouchStone is well balances at the intersection of profit motives and a concern for their communities. We are slowly changing the story of development from being donor driven and based on grants to profit seeking with a social edge.

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Sources:

South Africa Node, April 2011, Pgs. 8 – 9
http://newsletters.clearsignals.org/SANode_April2011.pdf#page=8

http://www.miningweekly.com/article/south-africas-acid-mine-drainagewaste-water-is-mineable-turton-2011-01-20

TouchStone website:
http://www.touchstoneresources.co.za/ .

See the January / February 2011 edition of Water Wheel magazine for a comprehensive overview and background of AMD.
http://www.wrc.org.za/Pages/KH_WaterWheel.aspx?dt=4&ms=55;