The operation in Mpumalanga province, South Africa, was designed to be a first-of-its-kind digital mine. The miner first broke ground at Belfast in July 2018, after a November 2017 construction start at the deposit. The price tag to bring Belfast to fruition was R3.3 billion (US$223 million).
With a life of mine of 17 years, Belfast has an initial estimated annual production of 2.2 million tonnes, much of which is earmarked for export, while a secondary-quality stream for local or export use will total 500,000t yearly.
"The coal production at the mine further proves the importance of the future of coal in South Africa and a key role the commodity still plays in the country," Exxaro said.
"The Belfast mine's coal production is intended to show the progress of digitalisation, job creation, upskilling of employees, sustainability and the protection of Exxaro's solid reputation."
The project is expected to contribute R39 billion to local GDP over its lifespan. The digital, connected aspects of the mine - which will allow for advances like real-time decision-making and productivity improvements - has been in development for two decades via the Belfast Implementation Project (BIP).
For example, mine maintenance teams will be able to remotely monitor and track all devices and access performance data, as they will be linked to specific equipment and machinery and will have the capability to identify issues early.
"The mine will be able to produce 2.7 million tonnes of good-quality thermal coal a year for at least the next 17 years, starting in 2020, in the first phase of development," business unit manager Lazarus Ramashilabele said.
"There is also potential for a second phase, depending on market conditions, which could take the life of the mine to 30 years."
Wxecutive head of projects Johan Meyer added: "The seamless teamwork from the company's value chain has resulted in the delivery of the first RB1 product from Exxaro's new greenfield Belfast coal mine.
"The project and operations teams have managed to successfully accelerate and produce the first RB1 product ahead of schedule and well within budget and with no lost time due to injuries. The project's safety record makes the fast-tracking of RB1 production from Exxaro's new coal mine even more remarkable."