Review Articles

South Africa’s diminishing coal reserves

Chris J.H. Hartnady
South African Journal of Science | Vol 106, No 9/10 | a369 | DOI: | © 2010 Chris J.H. Hartnady | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 24 July 2010 | Published: 29 September 2010

About the author(s)

Chris J.H. Hartnady, Umvoto Africa (Pty) Ltd, South Africa


South Africa’s coal reserves have been significantly reduced since 2003 and a re-assessment based on the complete statistical history of production from southern Africa has indicated that the present remaining reserve for the entire subcontinent comprises only about 15 billion tonnes or gigatonnes (Gt). South African coal geologists should therefore be mindful of experience in Britain, where reserves were grossly overestimated by conventional techniques and remained a large multiple of future production until very shortly before the effective collapse of the industry in the 1980s. The southern African historical analysis has shown that an impressive leap in coal production occurred between 1975 and 1985, from about 69 million tonnes per year (Mt/yr) to 179 Mt/yr. By 1989, the cumulative production had reached 4 Gt. Despite this doubling since to just over 8 Gt, the underlying pattern has been one of faltering growth. Hubbertarian analysis predicts a peak in production rate of about 284 Mt/yr in 2020, at which stage approximately half (12 Gt) of the total resource (23 Gt) will be exhausted. The Waterberg Coalfield (Ellisras Basin) in South Africa may be a remaining large resource, but structural complexity, finely interbedded coal-shale strata at large depths, low grades, high ash content and water scarcity are likely to inhibit its major development. Given South Africa’s heavy dependence on coal for power generation and electricity supply, an anticipated peak production in 2020 will cause problems for future economic growth.


coal reserves; Hubbertarian analysis; peak production; resource depletion; energy planning


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