The end of Walvis Bay’s notorious salt trucks

  • 20km pipeline to pump salt to port of Walvis Bay

  • Construction of pipeline planned for January 2020

  • This wil be the world’s first salt transporting pipeline

Floris Steenkamp

A consulting engineer has been tasked by Walvis Bay Salt Refiners to design a system to pump salt by pipeline from the salt works to the port of Walvis Bay. An experimental plant, established by Walvis Bay Salt Refiners at its premises at the salt works, has successfully proved that it can be accomplished and is pumping 150 tons of salt per hour for several months on end already. The system shows no sign of engineering fatigue.
And before you want to take this with the proverbial pinch of salt: the concept of pumping solid products or by-products from mining by pipeline is not a “new” engineering concept. It is known as slurry transportation and is used in Namibia for instance by the uranium mines to pump tailings (a mining waste product) from the crushers to the tailings dams.
Namib Times visited Walvis Bay Salt Refiners on Wednesday to learn more about the envisaged pipeline project. The newspaper’s Floris Steenkamp was briefed by the managing director of Walvis Bay Salt Refiners Mr André Snyman and the company’s operations manager, Mr Klaus Frielingsdorf on the project.  The basic principle lies in the fact that solids can be transported by pipeline with water as the carrying agent. In the case of transporting salt, it is possible to pump salt by means of a saturated salt water medium and then transport it by pipeline. The salt crystals cannot dissolve, as the water is already at saturation point. A centrifuge at the end-point is then used to separate the salt crystals from the water, much like a washing machine would clear water from laundry during the spinning cycle.

In Morocco a 200km pipeline pumps phosphate from the phosphate mines to processing facilities.
“Slurry transportation is not a new concept but if we get the project go ahead it would be the first time in history that salt is transported by pipeline”, explained Mr Snyman. Adding, the experimental project actually served as a screening environmental impact assessment to proof firstly if it was possible to pump salt slurry by pipeline and then to highlight any possible negative environmental impacts.
“We used the experimental project to expose to us any possible showstoppers”, Frielingsdorf explained. Frielingsdorf has been nurturing the idea of pumping salt through a pipeline for many years. He is thrilled with the performance of the experimental plant and he looks forward to the actual salt slurry transportation plant taking its rightful place in salt production at Walvis Bay Salt Refiners.
The proposed pipeline would follow a 10 km route to the port of Walvis Bay (see satellite picture) and 10 km back to the salt works. Like a heart pumping blood to deliver oxygen to the body and carbon dioxide to the lungs for exhalation, the water will on a permanent basis flow through the pipeline first to deliver the salt to the port and then flow back to the salt works to pick up salt.
With this experimental project successful, Walvis Bay Salt Refiners appointed a consulting engineer recently to design a concept salt slurry transportation plant. The design must make provision for a 20 km pipeline that can deliver salt from the salt works to the port of Walvis Bay, at a rate of 250 tons per hour. Once this concept design is delivered by the consulting engineer, the process will commence to carry out a full environmental impact assessment and obtain an environmental clearance certificate.
According to Snyman, the Board of Directors will be provided with a ready-to-go project proposal. He expressed hope that all stakeholders can be on board by the end of the year, so that construction of the slurry transportation system can commence in January 2020 already.
For Walvis Bay Salt Refiners 2020 is an important year. The completion of the new, hi-tech wash plant will increase production to 1, 2 million tons of salt per annum. An efficient salt transporting system would fit in perfectly in the company’s expansion strategy. At the same time, the salt pipeline would also end the need for salt trucks which for many decades is the only means of transport of bulk salt between the salt works and the stockpiling area in the port of Walvis Bay.

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