The Advanced Orebody Knowledge (AOK) programme – one of six research programmes of the Mandela Mining Precinct – has reported notable results across a range of tests being conducted by using the precinct’s test mine near Rustenburg, in the North West.
The programme aims to test and develop technologies, while the test mine provides the safe environment in which to do so.
The Mandela Mining Precinct, founded in 2018, is a public–private partnership between the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and Minerals Council South Africa.
The testing will contribute to the development of various processes, which will promote the optimal extraction of ore, as well as zero harm objectives set out by the mining industry.
“The focus of the AOK programme is to create the ultimate ‘glass rock’ environment, which includes improving geological confidence ahead of the face,” says the AOK programme manager Michelle Pienaar.
She adds that the programme also aims to reduce and identify risks associated with geological structures and, ultimately, to have timeous information on what has been observed underground, timeously available on the surface.
The programme started mostly with desktop studies and reviews, after which the studies were taken underground, with the testing and developing of its ideas in the safe environment of the test mine.
The ‘Michelle Pillar’, an assigned area of about 9 m × 11 m in the test mine, has been the site of the majority of the tests conducted by the precinct.
The most promising test involved the application of handheld light-detection and ranging (Lidar) scanners from a range of suppliers.
In some Lidar trials, different suppliers worked together with different research institutions to test their technologies, which “proves that collaboration among research institutions, the mines and different suppliers is possible”, enthuses Pienaar.
Additionally, a “ground-breaking” tunnel seismic tomography test was conducted and, although the information compiled is still being analysed by data analysts, it shows great promise.
“The tunnel seismic tomography technologies have never been tested anywhere in South Africa for mining applications,” Pienaar explains, adding that the electric-resistance tomograph test was so successful that a second round of testing has been scheduled to take place over a larger testing area.
Two further tests include a ground-penetrating radar technology, which has shown promise for the three-dimensional incorporation of geological models, as well as thermography, or infrared, testing, which requires further development.
The AOK programme is a collaborative effort among four institutions: the University of Johannesburg, the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Pretoria, as well as national scientific research institution the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.
Pienaar adds that the AOK programme also has numerous students working on various projects to ensure that the legacy of knowledge is transferred to not only the industry but also those that will be coming up through the ranks.
“Even though the AOK programme and the test mine work as separate entities, with different goals and outcomes, their paths have crossed on numerous occasions.”
Pienaar concludes that conducting projects underground has shown the benefit of having such a facility readily available for research.