The R3.3 billion (US$247 million) project southwest of Belfast will be the first in the country to have a "digital twin", or a complete digital replica that will allow management and contractors to connect to and manage the operation from anywhere. In addition, maintenance teams will have connections to machinery for analysis and early diagnosis of issues.
Construction is now seven months along in a building phase that is expected to last approximately 24 months. Once it begins operations during the first half of 2020 it will product about 2.7 million tonnes annually of A-grade thermal coal for export.
The BIP, which will create 6,000 direct and indirect jobs, could contribute as much as R39 billion to the local gross domestic product (GDP) over the mine's lifespan of 17 years. Overall, the project is projected to reduce unemployment in the municipal district by 2%.
"We are mindful of possibility that comes with the Belfast Implementation Forum. This is not just about creating a new mine; as we create, we need to consider how we start leveraging opportunities to create new economies," CEO Mxolisi Mgojo said.
"Exxaro's purpose is rooted in our belief that unless we power better lives for people, not only in this country but beyond our borders, then we have not lived our purpose."
Mpumalanga Premier Refilwe Mtshweni, who noted that the groundbreaking at BIP is the culmination of two decades of work, called Exxaro a proudly South African company and "exemplary and at the forefront of reshaping how the mining sector contributes to nation building for the past 12 years".
"Today is a testament to that," he noted at the ceremony to mark BIP's start.
In addition to the mine, Exxaro will establish a new two-stage 500-tonne-per-hour dense medium separation (DMS) plant to enhance coal processing and preparation. It will also include a fines DMS and filter section.