Lime in South Africa

Douglas, J. K. E.
Organization: The Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
Pages: 12
Publication Date: Unavailable
PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS Given by Mr J. K. E. DOUGLAS, M.Se. (Eng.) (Rand) SYNOPSIS Lime is the most widely used and the cheapest chemical alkali known to man and virtually every product we use or eat has required lime in some phase of its manufacture. Its use goes back to the earliest days of man and many ancient buildings and writings bear testimony to this. The manufacture of lime involves quarrying, crushing and screening of limestone and the burning of the sized stone in kilns of which there are several types. The earliest kilns were of very crude design and only in comparatively recent times have large capacity, automated and scientifically controlled kilns been developed. The history of the South African lime industry is largely that of the three main lime companies and their story is briefly told. No other material used in industry has a greater diversity of uses or more varied functions and lime has applications in most South African industries. The main applications are in the production of gold and uranium, iron, steel and ferrochrome, carbide, sugar and paper and for water treatment, agriculture and building. The Republic is well endowed with high quality limestone and the conclusion is drawn that many other minerals will have been exhausted before we run out of limestone with which to process them. The expansion of the lime industry has in the past kept pace with the requirements of industry and the future demand is expected to grow in parallel with the growth of these industries. Since the war this growth has been phenomenal and with our expanding populations and abundance of raw materials it should continue in the years ahead. Limiting factors are the shortage of skilled labour and the distance from export markets. Confidence is expressed that the challenges of the future will be met and that the lime industry will continue to make an important contribution to the growth and prosperity of South Africa. INTRODUCTION Lime, gentlemen, is known to all of you. Like myself, most of you have undoubtedly found it to be, on the appropriate occasion, a most pleasant flavouring for gin. But this lime, or rather its juice, was in earlier days more than just a flavouring. In the days of sail it was vital to the health of sailors as a deterrant against the scourge of all sea-going men-scurvy. It thus played a small but important role in the opening-up of trade routes around the world on which was based the original wealth of many of today's more advanced nations. I propose to address you on the subject of lime this evening, not the citrus variety I have just mentioned, but the most widely-used and cheapest alkali known to man, which, largely unsung, plays an even more vital part in modern industry than did its namesake in the development of inter-continental trade. In the time at my disposal, I propose to tell you something of the history, geology and technology of lime manufacture. Then I will briefly sketch for you the development of this industry in South Africa and indicate the role it plays in supplying the requirements of many of our important industries. Finally we will attempt to look into the future. The importance of this chemical alkali to our modern civilization is seldom fully appreciated-virtually every product we use or eat has required lime in some phase of its manufacture, either directly or indirectly. It is one of those basic materials, along with iron, coal, sulphur, salt and petroleum without which industry and, in fact, our modern way of living could not exist. Fortunately, nature has endowed the world with a plentiful supply of the limestone from which lime is derived and most countries have deposits adequate for their requirements. As a result, not only has there been little trade in lime products between countries but in the past the widespread occurrences of limestone have set a pattern of numerous small plants each serving a limited area. These plants were generally crude affairs incapable of producing a quality product. It is not surprising that, in an industry comprised of small producers with limited financial resources and in fierce competition with each other, there was little interchange of information. Technological development was therefore slow and the industry tended to be regarded as a backyard operation. Its popularity was not enhanced by the fact that lime is difficult and unpleasant to handle if proper facilities are not provided. In recent years the lime industry has undergone very radical changes to meet the more exacting requirements of today's more sophisticated consumers. Only since the war have the larger companies emerged with proper management, highly mechanized plants and a scientific approach. HISTORY Lime was one of the first chemical reagents used by man and consequently lime burning is one of the oldest of the chemical industries. The use of limestone dates back to the stone age when primitive man used limestone to build fireplaces, construct shelters and make crude tools and weapons. It is probable that lime was first discovered by him when the stone in these fireplaces disintegrated to a white powder which he could use for decorative purposes. The first recorded use of limestone was when huge blocks of limestone were used to build the pyramids of Egypt in 4,000 to 2,000 RC. It was not long after this that the beauty of marble, which is in fact a limestone, came to be appreciated and it found wide application in sculpturing and for decorative wall construction. Originally lime, mixed with sand, was used mainly as a mortar for building purposes, the earliest record of its use for chemical purposes being in 350 B.C. in a report of the wreck near Marseilles of a ship carrying a cargo of linen and lime 'for its bleaching'1. Cato mentioned the burning of lime kilns in 184 B.C. and the Romans made extensive use of both limestone and lime for highway construction. A treatise on architecture by Vitruvius who had an official position in the rebuilding of Rome under the Emperor Augustus remained for nearly two thousand
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