Use of Plastic Pipes in Mining


For more than 45 years, plastic pipe has extensively been used in mining in Southern Africa. According to Jan Venter, CEO of the Plastic Pipe Manufacturer’s Association (SAPPMA), the unique benefits of PVC and HDPE pipes fit particularly well in a mining environment.
Plastic Pipes used in Mining in South Africa
It is estimated that more than 30% of all HDPE pipe in Southern Africa finds its way into mining applications. “It is a proven product in rugged terrains, extreme climates and changing site environments, and is without doubt one of the most popular materials, particularly in gold and platinum mines as well as in open-cast coal mines,” Venter says.
Although they are used to a lesser extent, Venter says PVC pipes are particularly popular when modified for high impact and for the use of compressed air.

SAPPMA, a non-profit association, focuses on ensuring pipe systems that are correctly designed, leak-free and durable for long-term use, as well as on the rehabilitation of old pipelines. Representing more than 80% of the plastic pipe produced in South Africa, Venter explains that the mining industry is understandably a major focus for its members and one of its biggest off-set areas.

“Just as water distribution, waste disposal, irrigation and telecommunications all rely on pipelines to function, so too the mining industry relies heavily on its plastic pipe infrastructure for water distribution, dewatering and slurry disposal. It is therefore of vital importance to ensure the quality of pipes, fittings and the installations themselves are of unquestionable quality in order to avoid pipeline failure and downtime,” Venter says.

Apart from the obvious inconvenience and loss in revenue and working hours which result from pipeline failures, it can also result in the loss of miners’ lives – which makes it all the more important to ensure that mining pipelines are properly installed, maintained and replaced when needed.

When it comes to selecting pipe materials for mining applications, Venter explains that the two most important factors are security and reliability. “The pipe must be rustproof, break-resistant and safeguard the environment. It is important that the pipe used has a proven track record and that it is respected by professional engineers and installers. High Density Polyethylene (PE) pipes not only meet, but exceed these challenges”.
He goes on to explain that the proven advantages of HDPE pipe for mining applications, citing low cost, ease of installation, and a resistance to chemicals, abrasion and pressure surges as some of its most popular characteristics.

“HDPE pipes are well-suited for the solids environment in mining applications as they offer superb chemical- and abrasion resistance. They are without a doubt the pipes of choice in harsh chemical environments as they have been tested and proved over and over again in the variety of mineral process - ranging from low ph. acids to corroding solutions,” Venter says.

The flexible nature of HDPE pipes allows them to expands with pressure surges, thereby increasing the life of the pipeline and reducing maintenance costs. Because the service life for HDPE pipe is between 50-100 years, significant savings in replacement costs are ensured for mines for generations to come.
Another key factor for mining projects, is the sustainability consideration of the materials used in the construction of their permanent infrastructure. Here too plastic pipes offer a significant advantage above other materials, owing to their excellent environmental credentials.

“Both HDPE and PVC pipes offer important environmental benefits to mines, such as reducing their carbon footprint from transportation because of light weights and the ability to maximise consignments. In fact, in terms of total life cycle, plastics can be considered to be one of the most energy-efficient materials, without compromising on strength, performance and longevity, whilst also being recyclable,” he explains.

Whilst there are few environments more challenging than mining, top quality plastic pipes bearing the SAPPMA mark are up to any challenge. “Pipelines are the arteries of civilisation. By supplying quality products for the mining, infrastructure, water, electricity and telephone networks, SAPPMA has become a well-trusted brand in South Africa. Our SAPPMA mark is a service provision of sustainable HDPE and PVC pipes and products to ensure a lifetime of quality. SAPPMA members are subject to a strict code of conduct and are subjected to regular and unannounced factory audits and sample testing. The result is quality products you can trust,” Venter concludes.

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