Andrew Branch, Director at BBE Projects

BBE Projects, a specialist in the design, engineering and construction of mine ventilation, refrigeration and cooling systems, is currently executing a turnkey project to design and construct a refrigeration plant and fan station at Northam Platinum’s Zondereinde No. 3 Shaft Project.

The Zondereinde No. 3 Shaft Project, near Thabazimbi in the Limpopo Province, is platinum group metals (PGMs) miner Northam Platinum’s major expansion drive that will see the construction of three new shafts on a block of ground on the Western Limb of the Bushveld Complex.

Additional 30 years

The flagship expansion project has already seen the completion of the No. 3 Shaft barrel development at a depth of 1 380m, which will be equipped for personnel and materials handling, while another two shafts, still under construction, will handle ore and ventilation for the mine. The expansion is predicted to extend the mine’s lifespan by an additional 30 years. 

Andrew Branch, Director at BBE Projects, says the company was appointed to design and build the large surface refrigeration plant to chill service water and provide air cooling for the underground works, as well as an upcast fan station on the ventilation hole.

Bespoke design

“Zondereinde No. 3 Shaft is currently one of the biggest projects in the South African mining industry and we are very proud to be a part of it. We are doing a tailored design for the mine, drawing on all the industry norms and our experience to give them the right solutions,” says Andrew.

The three-year project will see BBE install ten refrigeration machines into the surface refrigeration plant, which will ultimately have up to 70MW of cooling capacity. The company broke ground in October last year, starting with civil works for the major structures of the plant. This first phase of the project will be completed by November 2024, with work on the 12-month construction of the fan station set to start midyear this year.

The second phase of the project will see additional work on the refrigeration plant, with final commissioning slated for mid-2026.

“Ventilation and cooling form an integral part of the operational plan for Northam Platinum’s new block of ground. They would not be able to mine it without this new infrastructure,” Andrew explains.

Long association

He further elaborates that BBE’s appointment to the project was based in part on the company’s long association with Northam Platinum, with BBE having provided extensive consulting service to the mining house for many years, as well as constructing several cooling systems.

“Northam Platinum and their EPCM contractor felt comfortable trusting us with this project, given our track record, experience and specialist skills,” Andrew adds. 

“While the construction and technology used for this project are not unique, they are tried and trusted. Northam already has a large refrigeration plant on their existing No. 1 Shaft, and this new plant mimics that design. This is mainly for the purposes of commonality of spares and staff training.”

Tried and tested

Andrew advises that no significant challenges have been encountered during the project to date, adding that the company collaborated with the mine and the EPCM to identify any potential pinch points early and address them. For example, the long-lead refrigeration machine equipment, that were sourced from the USA, were ordered early to give the OEM enough time to manufacture them, given global material shortages and a fragile supply chain.

“This is the largest single-build refrigeration plant project awarded in SA mining for a long time and we are delighted to have been given the opportunity to play such an integral role in the No. 3 Shaft Project,” Andrew concludes.

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