DST, NRF launch holistic collaborative mining research centre at University of Johannesburg – by Natalie Greve (MiningWeekly.com – April 24, 2014)

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JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Advancing South Africa’s ambitions of evolving from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) on Thursday launched a specialised academic institute that will focus on holistic research into the country’s profusion of mineral resources and look to stimulate the creation of a cohort of skilled South African economic geologists.

The Centre of Excellence (CoE) for Integrated Minerals and Energy Resource Analysis (Cimera) would be hosted by the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and would see the collaboration of South African economic geology research units the Palaeoproterozoic Mineralisation Centre, at UJ, and the Economic Geology Research Institute, at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits).

This was the fifth DST-NRF CoE to be launched this month, following the official opening of four other research units focusing on food security, scientometrics and science, technology and innovation policy, mathematical and statistical sciences, and human development respectively.

The launch of Cimera, which formed part of government’s larger research intensification drive, brought the total number of CoEs to 14 nationwide.

The unit’s chief research objective would be to develop an integrated understanding of some of the country’s major and minor mineral and fossil energy resources and their geometallurgical characteristics.

This was aimed at ensuring the sustainable extraction of resources, while preventing and mitigating negative environmental effects.

The centre would place particular emphasis on integrating academic research with strategic applications in wealth generation and human resource development, weaving in an understanding of the socioeconomic implications of local mining activities – not only in South Africa but also elsewhere on the continent.

It would also aim to develop skilled economic geologists through postgraduate research studies on mineral and energy resources, with a particular, although not exclusive, focus on Africa.

The centre’s work on the continent would become more relevant as Africa moved into an era where the demand for the exploitation of its larger bulk commodity resources, such as iron, manganese and bauxite was rising, while the knowledge to ensure the long-term viability of this extraction was lacking.

Commenting at the launch of the centre, Cimera director Professor Nic Beukes described the CoE’s eight key research areas as the metallogenesis of early earth mineral systems, South Africa’s three superlative mineral resources, fossil energy resources of sedimentary basins, small-scale mining operations in Africa, critical metals of the future, new bulk mineral resource developments in Africa, environmental and medical geology, and public awareness and education.

“I also cannot overemphasise that the main focus of the centre is research and the training of students,” he noted.

The UJ lecturer also underlined the critical role of industry in the achievement of the research unit’s objectives.

“If we want to do geological research in South Africa, we are totally dependent on the industry to allow us access to [its] mines, as everything is getting deeper and we’ve done most of our research on the surface.

“Without industry partners, we won’t be able to access underground mines and study drill core [samples]. We often struggle with the limitation of confidentiality agreements, but we are hoping that our research will be of benefit to the mining houses themselves. If you do good work and if the work is of value, people will allow you to work on their deposits,” Beukes said.

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