Australia invests $27M in mining technology
Aims to stay a global leader in mining IoT, copper exports Metal Tech News Weekly Edition – January 8, 2020
Last updated 6/27/2020 at 4:58am
Australia, which already sits at the cutting edge of mining innovation, is investing heavily into ensuring Aussie miners remain on the cusp of emerging technologies that make the sector more efficient, sustainable and safer.
Toward this goal, the Australian government and private sector partners are investing more than A$27 million in mining technologies, training and research.
This includes A$12.5 million in funding, from the Australian government and industry organizations, to support a training center at the University of Adelaide in South Australia to educate miners and engineers in emerging technologies.
"The training center will deliver the enabling tools – advanced sensors, data analytics and artificial intelligence – for automated, integrated and optimized mining," said Peter Dowd, professor of mining engineering at Adelaide. "Automating a mine requires all stages of the mining and processing system to be integrated so that intelligence across the value chain can be automatically generated, delivered and exploited."
Australia-based Resolute Mining is already exploiting the efficiencies that automation can bring to mining at Syama, the world's first fully automated underground gold mine.
From the rigs that drill the holes needed to blast out the gold bearing rocks, to the loaders that scoop up the blasted material and the trucks that carry the ore to the surface, every aspect of the underground mine is fully automated.
"It is very exciting, and it is happening as we speak," Resolute Mining CEO John Welborn said during an August presentation at the Diggers & Dealers 2019 mining forum.
While computers efficiently guide these machines in implementing the mine plan at Syama, humans do monitor the machines' progress and can jump in and assist if a problem arises.
"I like to think it looks a bit like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise – that is where the entire operation is controlled," Welborn said of the computer filled room where the human heavy equipment controllers do their work.
Australia wants to take advantage of the work miners like Resolute are doing to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to implementing digital connectivity.
"The unique opportunity that Australia has is to master the industrial Internet of Things (IoT) in an industry – mining – in which it has the competitive advantages of the value and complexity of its mineral resources and of the high-level capability embedded in its mining equipment, technology and services and in its resource companies," said Dowd.
Toward this goal of being a world leader in mining IoT, research and training at the new mining technology center at Adelaide will begin this year and run through at least 2023.
"We expect significant benefits to be realized throughout the period and thereafter as the research delivers against each of the objectives and the translation partners develop the outcomes into industry-ready products and, in appropriate cases, commercialize outcomes," the Adelaide mine engineering professor said.
Sensors and other products that emerge from this program are expected to increase mine productivity; improve miner safety; and enhance environmental monitoring and management.
The mine technology training center will overlap a complementary mining technology program at Adelaide, Unlocking Complex Resources through Lean Processing.
Running from 2018 through 2021, this A$14.6 million program was established to develop a globally competitive mining technology services sector in South Australia.
South Australia's copper exports topped A$2.1 million in 2017-2018 fiscal year. A consortium of government and private companies hope that new technologies developed in the program will triple South Australia's copper production to one million metric tons a year by 2030.
Professor Stephen Grano, director of the University of Adelaide's institute for mineral and energy resources, said South Australia has more than A$800 billion in copper and associated gold byproduct resources that could be mined but new technologies are needed to recover tightly interwoven minerals that these resources are locked up in.
"The objectives of the consortium are to address these challenges and opportunities in more sustainable mining, minimizing environmental impacts, and to commercialize technological outcomes for global market opportunity," said Julie Owens, deputy vice-chancellor (research) at Adelaide.
Combined, the two research programs at Adelaide aim to keep Australia at the forefront of mining technology and a major copper exporter over the coming decades.