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Coal might not be enviro electricity in South Africa as well as those involve power station,

Ta g g a r t J H D A



onmentally popular but a is dependant upon it, ed with getting it to the as Alan Swaby reports


hen the world’s financial troubles erupted in 2008, the economies of many countries went into decline. But by and large, South Africa managed to avoid the worst of the impact. “It did have an effect on certain sectors,” says Jim Harrison, managing director of Taggart JHDA, “but mining in general and coal in particular continued largely unscathed. It’s only now that we are noticing a slowdown in major projects.”

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In fact, during a period where most businesses have been content merely to survive, Taggart JHDA has positively thrived. Prior to 2008, the company’s best results ever achieved saw sales of R120 million. Last year, however, turnover was R357 million. The quantum shift has coincided with the acquisition of JHDA by Taggart Global—an international US specialist in materials handling and coal preparation plants—whose fortunes have risen even more meteorically than JHDA’s. Taggart’s roots go back to just 1993 when a joint venture was established with Sedgman Australia, aimed at upgrading and modernising US coal preparation plants. By 2000, it had interests in China followed over the years by expansion into Brazil, Russia, Canada and finally South Africa. Since 2000, Taggart has completed more than 200 major coal preparation and materials handling projects in seven countries across five continents and has been ranked 28th out of the top 50 US-based contractors with international operations by McGraw-Hill’s Engineering News Record. On a personal level, the interest from Taggart couldn’t have come at a better time for Harrison. Having spent

almost 50 years in mining, Harrison was looking to grow and expand his business. He had met Larry Watters of Taggart several times, so when Taggart started looking at expanding into South Africa, the link was obvious and the timing perfect. As individuals, both Harrison and Watters have similar backgrounds—a long history with one specific industry, working up through the ranks to managerial positions. “The fact that my business had to start small, picking up whatever work it could find,” explains Harrison, “has proved very beneficial. It means we have enormously wide contacts with people who at one time might have been fairly junior within an organisation but who are now running things. We’ve grown together. My customers know we might not always be the cheapest but they know that the work we do will be free of future problems.” On the back of its successful investment into JHDA, Taggart also bought a major holding in another South African company—LSL/Tekpro, which specialises in materials handling plants. LSL Consulting is well known in the South African market, with particular expertise in iron ore, coal and mineral sand projects, and with major

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clients such as the Sishen Mine (Kumba Iron Ore) and Exxaro, as well as Namakwa Sands. Specialising in the design of long overland conveyors as well as dual carry conveyors, in 2001 LSL successfully designed and installed a 6.6 kilometre long dual carry conveyor. When it eventually reaches its final length of 7.5 kilometres, it will be the longest dual carry conveyor in the world. LSL is also currently one of the main consulting engineering companies on the Exxaro Grootegeluk Coal Mine expansion project, which will supply coal to the new Medupi Power Station. The scope included the materials handling from in-pit crushing through to the Eskom silo. Together with JHDA and LSL, Taggart is now able to offer a complete project solution from materials handling to processing, all in-house, and foresees this as being of significant benefit to clients in the future. Taggart’s aim in South Africa is to become a major engineering company in all mining projects.

Taggart and JHDA is a two-way street. JHDA provides a broader spread of interests, while Taggart is renowned for the innovative solutions it has developed to the question of cleaner coal. Over the years it has developed systems that need 40 per cent less equipment to achieve a plant’s specifications. It uses a package of proprietary modular plant which reduces a facility’s overall dimensions and consequently, the amount of energy needed to run the plant and its equipment. The domino effect of a smaller footprint streamlines the whole construction and operation process, saving on construction materials and accelerating construction schedules. Of course, coal is a controversial topic among environmentalists who consider it among the most polluting of fuels. Harrison reports that not only is South African coal low in sulphur—one of the worst contaminants—but the whole raison d’être for the coal preparation plant his company designs is to remove the

“My customers know we might not always be the cheapest but they know that the work we do will be free of future problems” The emphasis at JHDA, meanwhile, is very much on engineering. Nothing is made in-house. Instead, head office, in a series of truly elegant buildings in one of the smartest parts of northern Johannesburg, is home to around 70 engineers and draughtsmen. Site work is supervised by a core team of 30 pulling in agency workers as required. With no manufacturing facilities whatsoever, it requires the engineering to be carefully thought out, well planned and accurately detailed. Longstanding relationships with top notch fabricators adds to hassle-free project execution. South Africa’s dependence on coal for its energy is extremely high—it provides 80 per cent and more of the total. Eskom, the parastatal electricity company, is currently building two massive new power stations, one with its own integrated coal mine alongside. Unfortunately, for all contractors such as Taggart JHDA, Eskom’s capital commitment of several hundred billions of rand is proving problematic and much of the development work has been on hold for some months while it manages to solve these enormous debt financing requirements. Fortunately, over the years, Taggart JHDA has taken the opportunity to spread its expertise into other mineral areas and has tackled projects ranging from chrome to diamonds. As such, the transfer of benefits between

inorganic, so that the coal burns with maximum calorific value and minimum particulates. Taggart has patented a process design for fine coal recovery that employs spiral technology to recover ultra fine coal fractions as small as 0.15mm and less. It’s possible to achieve similar results with flotation technology but the Taggart process delivers the same efficiency but at significantly lower operating costs. Promising research is also being conducted on preboiler technology that will offer burning efficiencies that dramatically decrease the emissions of carbon, sulphur, mercury and other incombustible materials associated with coal. With a presence in most of the major coal producing countries, the one remaining growth area not yet tackled is India. “The coal there is similar to South Africa’s,” says Harrison, “so we have a head start. It’s likely that we’ll soon be bidding for work in India.” Closer to home, there are enormous coal reserves in neighbouring African countries. There, though, development is being held back by a lack of infrastructure between the remote coal deposits and ports capable of handling it. However, whichever way you look at it, there are sufficient projects on the go to keep Taggart JHDA very busy for the foreseeable future.