Test site provides platform to trial innovations under real mining conditions

20th May 2022 By: Marleny Arnoldi - Creamer Media Online Writer

Test site provides platform to trial innovations under real mining conditions

Public–private partnership for innovation the Mandela Mining Precinct’s (MMP’s) test mine is poised to deliver value to mining companies, original-equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and other stakeholders while contributing to the industry’s sustainability.

This partnership, aimed at assisting South Africa’s mining industry on its journey to safe, profitable mining, signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in April with Royal Bafokeng Platinum (RBPlat) to establish a test mine at RBPlat’s Maseve North mine, 50 km north of Rustenburg, in the North West.

RBPlat acquired the Maseve mine and associated assets from Canadian miner Platinum Group Metals in 2018.

The transaction was motivated mainly by an ambition to increase RBPlat’s processing capacity. The infrastructure of the Maseve concentrator is currently used to process ore from its nearby Styldrift mine. The Maseve South shaft is sealed off, while the Maseve North shaft is under care and maintenance.

The test mine is being developed as an industry site for research, development and innovation, allowing for technology demonstration and testing, in efforts to make the industry more sustainable, modern and safe. It will also serve to make the industry more competitive, according to the MMP.

Previously, research organisations and OEMs relied on the goodwill of mining companies to provide test sites for the evaluation of components or technologies.

However, this has limitations, as such mine sites are often in remote areas and difficult to access, with the testing process often perceived by staff members as a disruption to mining operations.

Two mines, both on care and maintenance, were offered in 2019 to the MMP as test sites. A feasibility study on the Maseve North mine revealed it to be the superior choice, owing to its shallow nature and established accessibility by a twin decline system.

According to a detailed market survey undertaken by a third party for the MMP, there is “certainly appetite for an easily accessible testing facility, particularly one involving real mining conditions”.

The MMP has started with work on its advanced orebody knowledge programme on site, which is aimed at providing mine planners, rock engineers, geologists and other decision-makers with information and knowledge that will contribute to optimal extraction and zero-harm operations.

Working for Industry

MMP programme manager Jurgens Visser tells Engineering News & Mining Weekly that the test mine will provide a facility for the testing and demonstration of locally and internationally manufactured mining equipment, as well as research and development activities aligned to the South African Mining Extraction Research Development and Innovation (Samerdi) mining research programme.

The MMP was launched in 2018 to implement Samerdi’s strategy, which is to modernise mining in South Africa.

The Samerdi strategy is implemented through five thematically applied research focus areas: the longevity of current mines, mechanised mining systems, advanced orebody knowledge, real-time information management systems and the successful application of technology centred around people.

With funding from the Department of Science and Innovation, four Samerdi research centres are being established in partnership with various universities and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

A research centre being established at the University of Pretoria, for instance, will establish expertise in automated condition and performance assessment of rock and equipment from the parameters obtained during drilling and blasting operations.

The Maseve test mine, for its part, is being established as a research centre to provide synergistic opportunities for research projects undertaken by the Mine Health and Safety Council to be trialled and tested, and to further research work conducted through universities.

It will also enable undergraduate and postgraduate students to conduct vacation work, research and vocational training, in addition to hosting startup companies for collaboration and incubation purposes.

The MMP is earmarking universities in the spheres of mining engineering and technical services so that students can garner practical exposure in a real mining environment.

While some universities offer vocational work for students in mock-up, or simulated, environments, Visser deems it more valuable for students to learn in authentic mining conditions.

He explains that underground workshops will be made available for testing purposes, in accordance with the needs of the testing companies and on a case-by-case basis.

For example, a block previously mined using mechanised equipment is a prime testing ground for OEMs.

All OEMs have to adhere to mining safety regulations, and pay a fee depending on the extent of their intended activities, which, in turn, will help to cover mine maintenance costs, as well as water and electricity use.

This, Visser notes, is a benefit afforded to RBPlat in that the cost to maintain the mine is shared among a large number of companies.

Another benefit involves RBPlat’s being the first recipient of testwork conducted on site, with first-hand exposure to new technologies.

On the surface, the area will be fenced off and offices will be built as part of Phase 1 of the test mine project. The MMP will demarcate areas and make workshops available on the surface for companies that wish to operate above ground.

Phase 1 of the test mine largely involves the legal framework and preparing the site and surface area for testwork operations, which the MMP hopes to progress to detailed and high-level testwork within one or two years.

The MoU between the MMP and RBPlat is valid for an initial three years, whereafter it is possible to extend the agreement, depending on the success delivered by the test mine and participating companies.

Visser notes that more detailed agreements can be made after the initial three-year MoU period to include more types of testwork at the mine.

Only low-risk testing and trialling activity will be conducted at the mine, such as using communication and scanning devices, as well as monitoring systems, before the MMP progresses to testing more high-risk technologies that involve blasting and drilling.

Visser says RBPlat’s vision and its decision to allow the industry, facilitated by the MMP, to conduct testing at the mine will move the mining industry forward, sustainably.