Earth Sciences

The study of the origin, distribution and character of earth mineral and fossil energy resource systems with the aim of ensuring their sustainable utilization not only in South Africa, but Africa as a whole, is the focus of the work being done by CIMERA.

Their research focus is especially relevant to South Africa because it represents the most valuable piece of mineral real estate in the world, ranking top in resource concentrations of gold, chromium, manganese, fluorite, aluminosilicates, vanadium, zirconium and the platinum-group elements, in addition to hosting important world-class deposits of iron, uranium, diamonds and coal.

However, it is also highly relevant to Africa as a whole, because the continent is moving into a new era where the demand for utilization of its large resources of bulk commodities like iron, manganese and bauxite are rapidly rising, but sufficient knowledge to ensure long-term economic viability of extraction is lacking.

Head of Institute

Prof Nic Beukes

Professor Nic Beukes

  • Director of CIMERA
  • Department of Geology

What If?

South Africa: The most valuable piece of minerals real estate in the world

We are sitting on the world’s most sought-after minerals real estate. Our current actions will determine the future of this valuable land. Mining remains one of the biggest industries in South Africa, which boasts the most valuable remaining mineral deposits in the world. Sustainable and economical mining require efficient methods of predicting where mineral deposits may be, finding those and managing mining operations responsibly, to the benefit of future generations.

The University of Johannesburg is unique in Southern Africa for its combination of economic geology, hominid dating research and expertise in finding out how old mineral deposits and rocks of any age are. UJ’s Centre of Excellence for Integrated Mineral & Energy Resource Analysis (CIMERA) collaborates with national and international educational institutions to tap into collective expertise in mapping and describing strategic mineral deposits, research towards improving mining exploration and efficiency, and understanding the formation of mineral deposits during ‘early earth’.

The real questions are: when we reach the 10 billion mark in terms of earth’s population, how are we going to feed all of the people? Where will we get all the fresh water from? Where will we get mineral resources from? Where are we going to get sufficient fertiliser to fertilise the food when it is predicted that phosphate rocks will run out in the next 40 to 50 years from now? What’s going to happen after that and how are we going to ensure supplementary fertilised lands? CIMERA and its collaborating scientists operate as a centre of excellence where high quality post graduate training and research are produced.

Earth’s future is determined by our actions. Our actions start with our thoughts about how we want earth to look like in the year to come. We should ask questions, explore ideas and continue to question everything. A good start is by asking one simple question: what if?

What if we can one day have a full and clear understanding of earth’s deposits? What if we could always explore and mine economically and responsibly? What if we could create thousands of additional jobs in the mining sector each year?  What if we could improve mining exploration and mining operations to more efficiently retrieve minerals during mining? What can we do to retrieve remaining gold and platinum at older, less viable, deep mines in a more economical and safe manner?

South Africa’s manganese story has been described as one of South Africa’s saddest mining stories, in that the country hosts 80% of the world’s manganese reserves and resources, but produces only 15% of the world’s manganese, compared with China, which produces more than 35% of the world’s manganese with less than 5% of the world’s manganese reserves and resources. Our beautiful but fragile South African Kalahari is mapped and described as the world’s most bountiful manganese deposit. What if we can change this ‘sad story’ to a ‘good news story’ by increasing the mining of manganese which is a crucial component of stainless steel, making it flexible and suitable for construction, manufacturing of vehicles and many other applications? More jobs, more economic growth, more prosperity for all South Africans.

Imaging a future where we can accurately map and mine the remaining iron ore at Sishen mine in the Northern Cape. What if we could thereby improve the economic viability of the last decades of South Africa’s biggest iron mine?

How will we know where we are going to if we do not understand where we are coming from? What if we could have a clear understanding of ‘early earth’, its occupants? What did it look like? How did the crust develop? What if we can accurately predict how and where mineral deposits would have formed, and how to look for them in mining exploration?

If could better understand the formation of the African continent, from the breaking up and coming together of proto-continents, we could accurately predict locations of mineral deposits. Imagine the benefits of these predictions…

What if we can use technology combined with research to 100% accurately date hominids such as Homo Naledi? Would this not lead to a better understanding of when and how our human ancestors lived millions of years ago?

How do we see the future of mining? How does an industry over 5000 years old view its own future? We, at UJ believe we can influence the future. We are reimaging the future. We choose to innovate rather than to stagnate. We choose to question rather than to accept. We ask: “What if?” What if we can develop automated mining techniques where robots are send down to deep levels to mine the gold layers – there where it is too dangerous for people to go? Why can’t we send down the mine inspector robot carrying a high-definition camera, to scout dangerous areas to ensure the safety of miners?

What if we adopt new technologies and ways of thinking today in order to be better prepared for tomorrow? What if geology can be improved by applying drones in mining are used for exploration of mining sites, providing accurate data for better planning and mapping?

What if we embed sensors in all mining machinery to collect accurate data and to enable communications between machines? Why do we not apply smart analytics software to handle complex mining tasks such as geo-modelling, day-to-day scheduling and predictive maintenance? Why do we not issue all our mine workers with workwear and personal protective equipment embedded with sensors that transmit employee locations and trigger warnings about hazardous situations, improving safety outcomes?

What if we can apply all the smart technologies without compromising job-creation? “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela

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