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Mine modernisation momentum building up unstoppable steam

9th November 2018

By: Martin Creamer

Creamer Media Editor

     

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There is just no stopping the pace of mine modernisation globally. There will be no turning back at the level of mining majors. All of them are seizing on every bit of appropriate technology available to create better mines that present less risk to health, better protect Mother Nature and add to competitiveness.

By this time next year, diversified major Rio Tinto, which used to mine up the road at Palabora Copper and which still mines South Africa’s beaches at Richards Bay Minerals, could have the world’s first intelligent mine in Australia’s iron-ore-rich Pilbara region.

At last month’s International Mining and Resources Conference, in Melbourne, Rio Tinto CEO Jean-Sabastian Jacques, who once worked at Palabora Copper, called for a fundamentally different mining vision that pioneers new thinking, with data and digital technology at the forefront.

Simultaneously, Mining Weekly reported that mining major BHP is planning to introduce electric vehicles in the interests of a healthier underground environment at the large Olympic Dam uranium and copper mine, in South Australia.

A year ago, Anglo American told Mining Weekly that it intended unleashing end-to-end innovation across the length and breadth of global mining.

The belief by the majors that they risk going under if they fail to modernise is quite pervasive, and hanging over their heads is the threat of recycling.

While the thermal coal that is mined is burnt in the process of electricity generation and requires ongoing replacement, most metals do not have that favourable market dynamic.

Platinum, for instance, is never consumed, which means that the recycling of the metal has to be constantly taken into account.

Improved mining at lower cost forms a protection against the competition that recycling presents, which is why platinum mining companies need to use modernisation as a way of coming down the cost curve.

As Anglo American has pointed out, if modern technology can allow for platinum ore to be presorted and presented at a grade of 10 g/t instead of 4 g/t, output can be increased by two-and-a-half times from the exact same capital invested.

The same company has also calculated that waste brought to surface has grown sixteenfold from what it was in 1900. If you look at the copper situation, just to get 40 kg of copper requires double the quantity of water than it did then.

Other industries have developed technologies that can be used in mining, from medical technology to automotive engineering technology.

Data science and information technology can ensure the precise removal of ore without waste. Envisaged is swarm robotic mining that devours ore the same way locusts devour maize and armies of ants go about executing their tasks.

Big-minded mining companies will be prepared to share technology in the interests of making human beings safer and fighting climate change. Small-minded mining companies will keep everything to themselves, as happened in the bad old days.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

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