JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – A fuel cell dozer that runs on hydrogen carried in liquid is expected to make a game-changing debut underground next year, Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) CEO Chris Griffith said last night.
Speaking at the fortieth African Mining Network dinner, Griffith said third generation development had already taken place on the dozer, which was powered by a liquid carrier of hydrogen, innovated to create market demand for platinum.
“This changes the game,” he said in response to Mining Weekly Online.
A drum of the hydrogen-carrying, baby-oil-resembling liquid can fuel the dozer for several days.
“This is some really cool technology,” he added.
It is poised to be taken underground for operation at a dip that has been very difficult to crack for mechanised trackless mining.
“We’re ready to put that underground in about a year’s time. The equipment’s all working and now we’re trying to put this all together so that it works as a system,” he disclosed.
While 100% mechanisation had been introduced at Amplats' opencast platinum mines, as well as with joint venture partner Glencore at Mototolo, the company did not yet have 100% mechanised operation at ultralow stoping widths, but had developed ultralow profile equipment to operate at 1.2 m.
This ultralow profile equipment included a roof bolter, face rig, sweeper and the fuel cell driven dozer.
“We, as an industry undoubtedly need to modernise how we mine, process and conduct our business if we aim to be both profitable and sustainable into the future. Our response as an industry has to be one that is bold, far-sighted and durable,” Griffith said.
The broader Anglo American group had the FutureSmart MiningTM strategy but no company could keep pace with today’s advances on its own, and a multi-stakeholder approach broken down into achievable goals was needed.
“We’re working towards a future that, through collaborative partnerships, will shape an industry that is safer, more sustainable and efficient, and better harmonised with the needs of host communities and society as a whole,” he said, emphasising that modernisation meant more than just mechanisation and was founded on consistent generation of acceptable returns to shareholders.
Without appropriate returns, and the subsequent attraction and retention of capital, none of the aspirations could be fulfilled.
To achieve this, the company had been on a journey in the past five years to reposition its portfolio of assets.
The company would only attain its vision of a modern mine if it worked in partnership with its employees, government, unions and nongovernmental organisations.
“This is particularly the case in how we go about upskilling and improving the lives of our current and future workforce. The industry will have fewer direct jobs, but more skilled and better-paid ones affording employees the opportunity to live with their families adjacent to the mine in towns that have decent infrastructure. This modernisation drive will create jobs in non-traditional areas such as the service industry related to equipment manufacture and servicing,” he said.
Another element of modernisation was improving relationships with the mining communities, which needed to benefit from the company’s operations in ways that extended well beyond the direct work environment to overall livelihood, health and wellbeing and to grassroots education.
He expressed confidence that the company’s measures to improve the environmental outcomes of mining and processing, enable community participation in procurement and supply chains, and better livelihoods through community projects would bear fruit.
It had to be borne in mind that mechanisation always brought with it a concern about jobs, which would be created in new areas of the economy.
“With the current state of technology, mechanisation is both possible and affordable but, moreover, it is a social and economic imperative for Africa. Given the magnitude of our extraction challenges in the mining industry in general, it is quite extraordinary that the global mining industry currently spends so little on innovation and business-improvement programmes,” Griffith added.
On a revenue-to-revenue basis, the mining industry spent 80% less on technology and innovation than the petroleum sector, yet mining’s operating costs were increasing faster than consumer inflation rates and could double in a relatively short period.
With industry margins being squeezed on all fronts, innovation and mechanisation had to be embraced to find more productive, efficient and sustainable ways of extracting value from the minerals mined across Africa.
The industry could not rely on small, incremental changes and a business-as-usual philosophy and major innovation was exactly what the industry needed to solve its critical challenges.
In fact, mining needed to leap forward 20 years in the next five years, which required moving away from conventional labour intensive underground mining, with its high demands for people, energy and expensive infrastructure, to a modern way of mining.
The company remained focused on finding alternative ways to modernise mining in narrow tabular orebodies in the platinum industry by using different equipment, methods, layouts and techniques that will change the conventional way of mining.
The one particularly difficult nut to crack was that of rock cutting and trials were under way to do this with Joy Global for oscillation disk cutting in stoping, Atlas Copco for a disc cutting slot borer, and Sandvik for mechanised under-cutting technology in stoping. Also with Atlas Copco, a machine that used disk cutting, for high rate access tunnels, was being developed.
A rapid mine development system was being developed that involved a 23-m-long track-mounted continuous mining system that has been on trial in a proof of concept phase at Amplats’ Twickenham mine project site.
It consisted of a rotary cutting head which delivered the cuttings on to a centrally mounted conveyor belt for transportation to the rear of the machine. This machine had been designed to mine declines on reef to rapidly drop-down and open new mining blocks for future mining. When fully functional, the ability to advance at 200 linear metres a month was targeted.
The rapid mine development system had been custom designed by Atlas Copco with Amplats’ input and was built for low profile tabular reef mining development through the use of a 17” tunnel boring steel disc compression cutter technology.
The Sandvik MN220 machine used an alternative nonexplosive mechanised undercutting technology in one metre reef to ensure delivery of high grade ore with a low volume of high grade tons being mined.
A fleet of ultralow equipment at Twickenham, which includes the fuel cell dozer, drill rig, roof bolter, sweeper and continuous loader, is targeting a stoping rate of 4 000 m2 a month.