All posts by Daniel Gleeson

MacLean’s van Koppen on affecting industry change

MacLean Engineering has been a fast mover when it comes to leveraging battery-electric equipment, having announced an EV Series platform back in September 2016 and rolled out electrified machinery across its production support offering in the five-and-a-half-years since.

A family-owned company with roots in Canada’s mining technology heartland – Sudbury – MacLean is continuing to innovate with new solutions that leverage not only electrification, but the latest in automation and digitalisation too.

IM spoke to Maarten van Koppen, VP Product Management, ahead of his presentation at The Electric Mine 2022, in Stockholm, Sweden, to find out how these three industry trends are converging in line with the company’s Application Intelligence philosophy.

IM: As a mine engineer with experience integrating both battery-electric and autonomous equipment into mining operations (at the Borden operation, among others), what new perspectives have you brought to MacLean since you joined in 2020?

MvK: It’s a little atypical for a mining engineer from a mining company to join an OEM. Mine engineering graduates do join OEMs, but the typical route is to head there straight from school.

In terms of electrification and automation, the perspective that I brought to MacLean was an acute awareness of what is ‘on the other side of the fence’. Having that knowledge has slightly changed the way we interact with customers.

I made a point of preparing material for consultants and study managers that could be very useful in preparing tradeoff studies and inspiring more discussion. We now have an overview for consultants that lists the budgetary prices – based on an ‘average’ MacLean vehicle – for both electric and diesel equipment in an apples-to-apples comparison. We also have crude cost models that can be customised with different energy prices, labour rates and a couple of other key drivers. That really helps consultants with these early tradeoff studies.

Having been a study manager at Borden, I can appreciate what it takes to make consultants and study managers’ lives easier. We are now getting positive feedback from industry that speaks to that.

The good news for me and MacLean was that there was a solid team with Stuart, Anthony and others already doing this work. They understood what the industry was looking for and our key strengths as an OEM.

Since coming in, I have also taken over the static simulations for our EV Series offering. A lot of customers still have range anxiety and I have been able to help with that by customising these simulations for their own sites factoring in, for example, their ramp grades, lengths, etc. Through those simulations, you can outline different scenarios and explain the opportunity charging philosophy in a way that is specific to their operation.

And, finally, MacLean was already on this track, but I reiterated that our battery rental arrangements were very simple and needed to remain so. It is typically just a fixed rate, single number per month. Other OEMs use other arrangements that are a little more complicated, but my experience is that, in terms of forecasting and budgeting, these systems can become onerous to administer and difficult to model out accurately without encountering a bias around expected machine utilisation rates.

IM: At the same time, what was it that attracted you to a company like MacLean?

MvK: First and foremost, my dad, until he retired, was a heavy-duty mechanic who was promoted up the ladder in the company he worked for. This was primarily in the Port of Rotterdam where he helped maintain the big forklifts that operate there – these can be quite complicated from an operational point of view. In that regard, I have always had an affinity and interest in equipment, something that has carried through to my siblings, all of whom are involved in engineering.

Second, joining a family-owned company with three generations of MacLeans involved is a sign of long-term commitment. That was also very attractive.

On a slightly different note, I felt that joining an OEM would allow me to affect the greatest amount of change across the industry. In my role, I get to talk to customers all over the world with a wide range of projects, enabling me to explain where electric machines might make most sense for them in terms of generating increased shareholder value, improved working conditions for employees, etc. That also had a bearing on my decision to join MacLean.

Then, of course, there was an opportunity to embark on a steep learning curve – learning about powertrains, drive trains and all the mechanical and electric bits and pieces that go into our machines. It has been very rewarding so far.

Maarten van Koppen, MacLean Engineering’s VP Product Management

IM: Have you been surprised by the industry take-up of these new solutions since joining MacLean? What trends have supported this acceleration in demand?

MvK: That’s an interesting question. Taking it back a little further, when I started off at Borden, I expected the industry adoption to be quite rapid – perhaps more so than it has been.

We were on a good track in 2019, but the pandemic caused a brief interruption. I think a lot of operations took that time to re-evaluate certain choices or projects.

We were very busy with consultants on tradeoff studies in the early days of the pandemic – that never really stopped – and we’re starting to see these studies result in fleet orders.

The other thing that went under the radar with the pandemic is, in 2020, all the big mining companies made massive commitments to carbon reductions. Part of that is now starting to trickle through with quotes and interest.

For companies that have aggressive targets for 2030, this is impacting fleet decisions today. If you buy a machine now, it will most likely last for 15 years or more, so you are effectively deciding today about what machines you will be operating in 2037.

IM: MacLean initially announced an equipment electrification plan all the way back in September 2016 at MINExpo, selling your first EV Series machine that year. Since then, you have accrued in excess of 100,000 operating hours on these machines. When evaluating this data, what has surprised you in terms of operating performance, industry acceptance, cost outcomes, etc?

MvK: We have a lot of experience with all our BEV equipment, which is spread out across the offering. We have, through this experience, confirmed operating performance and proven the increased speed of these machines going up-ramp. For instance, with the new batteries we are using on 17% ramps, providing the road conditions are OK, you can drive up that ramp at 15 km/h with an empty battery-electric boom truck. You are looking at 8 km/h with a diesel-powered boom truck, so the speed difference is quite significant.

We have also carried out some very targeted trials, one of which was with a customer in British Columbia, Canada, last summer, where we captured those carbon savings with a bit more detail.

In that trial, we recorded 315 hours on the machine over the course of three months. If you had used a diesel machine over those hours, it would have consumed about 5,000 litres of diesel, generating about 18 t of carbon. With the grid being as clean as it is in BC, the carbon emissions from powering up the machine were about 100 times lower than pure diesel – about 130 kg in total.

Even when we do the back calculation using conventional diesel generation to power up these electric machines, it is still three times cleaner than a machine with a diesel engine.

The one thing we still need to do at our test facility in Sudbury is to confirm what heat savings we can achieve when using BEVs compared with diesel vehicles. We know from other work in the industry that we should see an order of magnitude lower heat emissions, and we are looking at building on our own in-house simulations with real-world test data.

IM: Has this data and feedback influenced your EV Series product line developments over this timeframe? What new products/concepts have come to light on the back of analysing this data?

MvK: Absolutely. Our on-board chargers, for instance, now come from a different supplier that offers better performance, a lower price point and an improved tolerance to less-than-ideal power infrastructure. If you have more robust electronics on these batteries, it is always likely to be better suited to more underground mines.

We have also been able to simplify the drivetrain by removing the transfer case for some of our lighter machines such as the shotcrete sprayer.

As well, we have some exciting changes coming up with the offering of a CCS-2-type off-board charger receptacle. For all-electric mines where off-board chargers are required to power other equipment, such as trucks and loaders, we figured it would make sense for our equipment to be compatible. This means we can charge machines with up to 250 kW of power, provided the off-board charger can push that kind of energy. As for on-board charging, we hit a practical limit to our maximum 100 kW charging capacity. Most mine grids have a limit of about 150 kW on their 400-1,000 V AC mine grids to accommodate jumbos, so we have to stay within that limit. Depending on customer needs, we can configure the charging solution to what makes sense for their project or operation.

MacLean, on the charging front, is also working with the BluVein consortium out of Australia to explore overhead battery charging. While primarily focused on haul trucks, this type of charging solution could be a good fit for our battery-electric grader. Graders typically work on ramps – where this charging infrastructure would be located – and, out of all the machines in our portfolio, a grader is the one machine that should not stop moving in ideal circumstances. The overhead charger matches the application in that regard.

We don’t blanket everything with one solution at MacLean – there is a niche for every solution when it comes to batteries and charging. Yet, knowing and understanding what the application is provides us the opportunity to configure a better product for the customer. That type of Application Intelligence is at our core.

Where this ties back to our battery-electric vehicle experience is in the importance of the ramp quality in these types of operations. In every haulage operation, you know the smoother the ramp, the faster you can tram and the more efficient it is for the overall mine. Yet, the added benefit that comes with battery-electric machines is the regeneration opportunities presented with a smoother ramp. That is why we felt it was necessary to come up with a product like this.

IM: On-board, opportunity charging with a standardised battery capacity has been the order of day for the majority of machines you have deployed in mining to this point. Is this blueprint changing for the next generation EV Series in line with the different applications?

MvK: We’re open to evaluating just about everything, but the one thing we are married to is the idea of the battery staying on our vehicle. This makes sense for the type of equipment we make and the applications we serve. Outside of that, we’re pretty flexible.

On top of the CCS 2-type charger coming out in 2022, we have a chiller for active cooling available to allow BEVs to work at higher ambient temperatures. That is currently on a boom truck in South Africa. As you can imagine, it is easier to test a chiller in a South African summer than a Canadian winter. We think we can operate those machines effectively up to 50°C ambient temperature and possibly more.

The battery supplier change is very big for us and we now have a roadmap to improve performance where we can more easily switch between battery products with that one supplier, taking advantage of future improvements.

It is interesting times as that whole battery-electric vehicle component field is changing so much with the world going greener in general terms. The more components we can pick from that are meant for mobile industrial uses, the better we can configure our machines. The one thing I don’t think people realise is that mining equipment manufacturers are way too small to mandate customised components on a machine. We are at the mercy of what components are available on the market.

Those technology improvements will also hopefully put some downward pressure on costs when all the supply chain interruptions settle down.

IM: Where is the industry’s level of maturity with battery-electric solutions? Have many of the initial barriers to entry (upfront cost, worries over range, etc) been overcome?

MvK: I think there is still a bit of a ‘sticker shock’ when people see the quotation for a BEV, which is common among the OEMs. Yet, people are now looking beyond the initial capital cost, taking into consideration the cost savings that can be realised over the lifetime of the machine.

What I find interesting is how capital markets are now playing a role.

For example, underground coal miners, on top of the regulatory pressures they are facing, are now finding it very difficult to attract capital for their operations. The flipside is true when we think about some junior companies out of Canada that have announced plans to go carbon neutral and fully electric – they have been able to attract capital from investors that would typically steer away from mining. This is especially true when they are looking to mine ‘battery minerals’.

There is still a level of scepticism and hesitancy, but customers that have trialled BEVs generally realise the need to go all-electric. I do expect with the regulatory changes in certain jurisdictions where we do a lot of business, there will be more enquiries. If it becomes a tradeoff between going all-electric or spending a tonne of money on upgrading your ventilation infrastructure to abide by regulations, the battery-electric vehicle value proposition for existing operations will become a lot clearer.

“Knowing and understanding what the application is provides us the opportunity to configure a better product for the customer,” van Koppen says. Pictured is the battery-powered TM3 concrete transmixer

IM: In terms of technology development, MacLean has also been developing automation and digitalisation solutions. How do you see all three – electrification, automation and digitalisation – complementing each other?

MvK: The combination of electrification and digitisation is a good match. A lot of our telemetry developments came from the BEV side where we needed those diagnostics; these are now carrying over to the diesel side. Also, integrating automation and digitisation makes a lot of sense for a lot of the same reasons that you need the data to automate operations.

A lot of the engineering challenges will be around automation and electrification working together, and how you get energy into the machine. Driving, stopping and controlling the machine is not a problem – it is actually probably easier on an electric machine – it is how to get energy into it. The consortium we are in with BluVein is one solution, but I don’t think it is the ‘only’ solution. There are others on the market, but they currently come with a price point that makes them prohibitive.

IM: I know you have partnered with universities and colleges on the robotics side of things in recent years. What’s the latest on these developments?

MvK: A lot of the collaboration, to this point, has focused on boom movements. We are starting to automate boom movements as we think it will have applications in not just oversize management with water cannons, blockholers, or secondary ore reduction drills, but shotcrete and explosives loading too.

We are also partnering on several other things with universities and colleges on tech development. One of the things that comes to mind is the Robobolter we are working on right now. Here we are looking to put a robotic arm on the deck of our tried and proven Omnia bolter platform to take the operator out of the environment.

Customers have been telling us for a while that, due to the travel times, heat or seismic exposure, they would like to see the operator further removed from the face when it comes to bolting operations. At the same time, we wanted to make sure this solution had all the strengths of our proven platform bolter – being able to load up for an entire round, provide multiple types of support without extensive retooling, etc. We’re looking to introduce that product in 2023.

Like many of our new products coming out, these vehicles will primarily be designed around battery-electric operation, with a diesel option. That is a shift in thinking – designing for electric with a diesel consideration, instead of the other way around. The grader is the exception to that as we had to make the first one in diesel form. But, when we look at our new explosives rig coming out next year, that is primarily designed as an electric machine, which we will make available in diesel as well.

IM: Is the Robobolter likely to be your most advanced machine in terms of automation, digitalisation and electrification when it comes out in 2023?

MvK: I think the Robobolter, at launch, will be our most advanced machine, but there is increased internal competition within MacLean to reach new benchmarks across our offering. That competition is good for the business and the industry.

It’s refreshing and encouraging that the MacLean ownership is big on growth in both product lines and the territories which we operate in. We also want to disrupt the sector in the niches we operate in, having full support in terms of innovating and coming up with new products.

On top of that, as it is family-owned company, you can make decisions that best suit our customers. For example, our ownership will not allow us to sell machines we cannot support in the field.  This philosophy has somewhat saved our bacon with the supply chain pressures the industry is experiencing of late, ensuring we have enough spares to supply new machines as well as service those in the field.

Maarten van Koppen will be presenting ‘Electric, automated and digitally-connected: the MacLean machine pipeline’ at The Electric Mine 2022 conference in Stockholm, Sweden, on February 17-18, 2022. For more information on the event, click here.

PolyMet heralds positive permit news at NorthMet copper-nickel-palladium project

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has affirmed nearly all aspects of the water discharge permit for the NorthMet project, overruling six of the seven challenges to the permit made by mining opponents and paving the way for the “reactivation” of this key permit, according to Poly Met Mining Corp Chairman, President and CEO, Jon Cherry.

The Court of Appeals affirmed virtually every aspect of PolyMet’s permit at issue. In particular, the court endorsed the district court’s factual findings regarding the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) and the Environmental Protection Agency’s interactions during the permitting process; agreed with MPCA’s application of state law governing groundwater discharges; upheld the agency’s conclusion that PolyMet’s project has no reasonable potential to violate water quality standards; agreed with MPCA’s finding that PolyMet’s project will not violate the Fond du Lac Band’s water quality standards; and affirmed the agency’s denial of mining opponents’ requests for a contested case hearing, the company said.

In its decision the panel concluded that the MPCA should still consider whether “any discharges to groundwater will be the functional equivalent of a discharge to navigable waters, and thus, whether the Clean Water Act applies to those discharges”. The court remanded the permit to the MPCA to conduct this functional-equivalence analysis, which the US Supreme Court established in County of Maui vs Hawaii Wildlife Fund, a new precedent set more than a year after PolyMet’s permit was issued.

PolyMet is a mine development company that owns 100% of the NorthMet project in the Mesabi Iron Range, the first large-scale project to be permitted within the Duluth Complex in north-eastern Minnesota. NorthMet has significant proven and probable reserves of copper, nickel and palladium, in addition to marketable reserves of cobalt, platinum and gold. When operational, NorthMet will become one of the leading producers of nickel, palladium and cobalt in the US.

The NorthMet deposit will be mined by open-pit methods to a depth of approximately 700 ft below surface. It is also reusing existing infrastructure of the former LTV Steel taconite processing site. It is expected to produce up to 57.7 Mlbs of copper, 8.7 Mlbs of nickel, 311,000 lbs of cobalt, 14,000 oz of platinum, 59,000 oz of palladium, 4,000 oz of gold and 48,000 oz of silver annually over an estimated mine life of 20 years.

According to a Reuters story, PolyMet received a state permit to discharge water from its proposed mine site in late 2018. Shortly after that, three environmental groups sued to challenge the permit. The case wound its way through the court system before this week’s ruling at the appeals court, which sits below the state supreme court.

“We are pleased that we have prevailed on the majority of the issues and the court has narrowed the case to just this single issue regarding Maui, where considerable scientific data already exists,” Cherry said. “MPCA has already determined there is not a permittable discharge to groundwater and we are optimistic the agency will reach the same conclusion from the Maui test. This will mean a little more process, but it gives us a clear roadmap to the reactivation of this permit.”

3GSM tackles drill comms, pattern analysis in latest BlastMetriX UAV blasting software update

3GSM GmbH, a developer of software to optimise blasting and reduce inherent environmental issues, has announced several updates to its flagship BlastMetriX UAV software that, the company says, improves communication with smart drills, offers face profiling enhancements and delivers more sophisticated drill pattern analysis.

Robert McClure, President of Robert A McClure (RAM) Inc of Powell, Ohio, an international blast and engineering consulting firm that provides service, support and training for BlastMetriX UAV, said: “3GSM works closely with its blasting customers to adapt to new challenges faced in the field and improve blast optimisation. Customers with an active update licence automatically receive these new features inside the BlastMetriX software, or they can be ordered separately.”

The enhanced drill pattern analysis tool provides heat mapping of drilled borehole deviations for simple visualisation of differences between “as planned” and “as drilled” patterns, while semi-automatic mapping of linear rock mass features is imported into the blast plan. By providing enhanced burden and spacing information, the software allows users to adjust explosive amounts in each borehole to account for irregularities, according to the company. “This is a great tool for a company’s key performance indicator program,” McClure said. “The software captures information from each blast and allows users to go back and review historical data to correct issues in the field.”

Updates to the IREDES (International Rock Excavation Data Exchange Standard) interface improves two-way data communication between BlastMetriX UAV and smart drills. It now allows for import of measure for drilling data like drill penetration rate and air pressure to map the subsurface geology of the borehole. At a quick glance, the software shows the geology and burdens from borehole top to bottom out to the free face. The program is compatible with all major drilling equipment manufacturers, according to the company.

Incorporating the ShapeMetriX system for generating and assessing 3D images, new geological mapping integration allows users to better visualise dips, strikes, seams and voids throughout the drilling pattern. The software can characterise irregularities in the face, which are projected back through the borehole. This allows for more precise loading of the borehole and improves blast safety.

In another update, the underground volumetric measurements tool inside ShapeMetriX now provides the determination of precise volumes in a “generalised” manner, based off captured subsequent tunnel faces and perimeters.

With the aid of aerial targets or standard BlastMetriX targets as reference points, the software imports images from a calibrated DSLR camera or unmanned aerial vehicles to quickly, safely and accurately capture 3D face profiles for enhanced visualisation of the blast area. Multiple data-rich overlapping images generate hundreds of thousands of data points for accurately characterising typography of the surveyed area and creating a 3D face profile.

BlastMetriX UAV gives technicians the confidence the blast will perform as designed to mitigate fly-rock issues, high air overpressures, excessive vibration, poor fragmentation, sub-par cast, loss of grade control and wall damage, the company says.

“Through blast design optimisation using BlastMetriX UAV, operations can realise significant benefits including improved fragmentation, higher crusher throughput and lower drilling man power requirements,” 3GSM said. “The scalable BlastMetriX UAV software allows companies to integrate as much or as little technology as required.”

ABB adds cloud functionality, app use to Ability Predictive Maintenance for grinding

ABB has released a new version of ABB Ability™ Predictive Maintenance for grinding which allows users to obtain real-time notifications on gearless mill drive (GMD) systems from a mobile app.

The upgrade also means that ABB Ability Predictive Maintenance for grinding is now cloud-based instead of sited on premises.

The Grinding Connect mobile app, available for iOS and Android, allows mine operators to monitor performance at any time and from any place.

“ABB Ability Predictive Maintenance for grinding provides easy access to GMD system parameters and allows visualisation of performance considering past activity and real-time data and assesses future maintenance requirements,” ABB said. “It aims to extend the lifetime of grinding assets through better use of resources and to support non-stop operation and to avoid unforeseen downtime.”

The update facilitates greater data gathering, according to the company, with the data sample per mine increased and analytics and trends more reliably defined. The solution offers a new user experience with fully customisable dashboards, alarms and events all available on the mobile app.

ABB says GMDs are the preferred grinding solution at mines characterised by higher-capacity production and low-grade ores. By eliminating bolt-on mechanical components such as ring-gears, pinions, couplings and gearboxes, GMDs offer ore producers unrivalled availability, efficiency and durability, while reducing operating costs, according to the company.

Angeles Fernandez, Global Product Manager for Grinding Service in mining at ABB, said: “A gearless mill drive is a major investment and its availability is essential for the process. Unscheduled shutdowns and system failures can lead to significant losses in production.

“ABB Ability Predictive Maintenance for grinding is a state-of-the-art service for analysing system data, assessing the current condition of the equipment and applying predictive methods. The new version is unique in the market and the new Grinding Connect app means you can check that your GMD is performing through your phone or tablet – it is as familiar as the many personal apps we use for monitoring our health, catching up with the news, or checking on the home or children.”

The world’s first gearless mill drive was delivered by ABB in 1969 and is still in operation. Since then, the company has sold more than 150 units in 23 countries and currently has over 50% market share.

Howden to supply complete mine cooling system for OZ Minerals’ Prominent Hill mine

Howden says it has won a contract to supply a cooling system for the expansion of OZ Minerals’ Prominent Hill mine in South Australia.

The solution provided by Howden will be for the complete mine cooling system, with Howden’s equipment ensuring safe productive outcomes at depth and additional efficiencies to reduce environmental impact for current and future carbon footprint compliance.

Howden will focus on sustainability and the solution will include closed circuitry on both condenser and evaporator circuits and R717 (Ammonia) compressors which emit no harmful CO2 or HFCs, the company said. The system consumes no water, using the ambient air as the cooling medium and Howden will supply chillers, air cooled condensers, bulk air coolers, pumps, electronic controls and hydraulic design.

Camille Levy, President of Howden APAC, said: “Howden works in partnership with customers to create solutions for their needs which are of the highest functionality, while supporting their net zero targets. This project is no exception. Our unique combination of manufacturing excellence, technical and project deliverables, and our global experience, also contributes to the reduction of carbon impact of operations.”

The use of Howden refrigeration screw compressor technology coupled with supplies of condenser coolers and bulk air coolers were other supporting factors in the successful offer which will be delivered by the Howden team in China, the company said.

The OZ Minerals Board approved construction of a hoisting shaft at the Prominent Hill copper-gold mine in South Australia last year, paving the way for a mine life extension and throughput expansion.

Rio, TRQ and Mongolia agree on Oyu Tolgoi Underground development path

Rio Tinto, Turquoise Hill Resources (TRQ) and the Government of Mongolia have reached an agreement that, Rio says, will move the Oyu Tolgoi (OT) project forward, resetting the relationship between the partners and increasing the value the project delivers for Mongolia.

As a result, the OT Board, comprised of representatives of Rio Tinto, TRQ and Erdenes Oyu Tolgoi (EOT), the latter of which is wholly owned by the Government of Mongolia, has unanimously approved commencement of underground operations. This step unlocks the most valuable part of the mine and is expected to begin in the coming days, with first sustainable production expected in the first half of 2023, according to Rio Tinto.

As part of a comprehensive package, TRQ will waive the $2.4 billion EOT carry account loan in full, comprising the amount of common share investments in OT LLC funded by TRQ on behalf of EOT to build the project to date, plus accrued interest.

The Parliament of Mongolia has approved a resolution (Resolution 103) that resolves the outstanding issues that have been subject to negotiations with the Government of Mongolia over the last two years in relation to addressing Parliament Resolution 92 (December 2019).

With this approval, the Parliament of Mongolia has required that certain measures be completed in order for Resolution 92 to be considered formally implemented. Among the measures already addressed are improved cooperation with EOT, implementation of measures to monitor OT underground development financing mechanisms and enhance ESG matters and the approval of the Electricity Supply Agreement.

Rio says it is continuing to work with the Government of Mongolia and TRQ to finalise the remaining outstanding measures of Resolution 92, namely the formal termination of the Oyu Tolgoi Mine Development and Financing Plan (UDP) and resolution of the outstanding OT LLC tax arbitration.

An updated funding plan has been agreed to address TRQ’s current estimated remaining funding requirement for the OT Underground Project. Until sustainable underground production is achieved, OT will be funded by cash on hand and rescheduling of existing debt repayments, together with a pre-paid copper concentrate sales agreement with TRQ. This is in line with restrictions on debt financing contained in Resolution 103, passed on December 30, 2021.

Rio Tinto and TRQ have amended the Heads of Agreement signed in April 2021 to ensure they appropriately fund OT. The capital forecast for the project is $6.925 billion, including $175 million of known COVID-19 impacts to the end of 2021. Forecasted remaining underground capital expenditure is approximately $1.8 billion. A reforecast will be undertaken during the first half of this year to determine a revised cost and schedule estimate that will reflect:

  • Any further COVID-19 impacts;
  • Any additional time-based impacts and market price escalation arising from resequencing due to 2021 budget constraints (as a result of the OT Board not approving the capital budget uplift at the time the Definitive Estimate was finalised); and
  • Updated risk ranging reflecting the latest project execution risks.

The key elements under the amended Heads of Agreement include:

  • Pursuing the rescheduling of principal repayments of existing OT project finance to potentially reduce the OT funding requirement by up to $1.7 billion;
  • Seeking to raise up to $500 million of senior supplemental debt at OT from selected international financial institutions which could be put in place after sustainable underground production is achieved;
  • Rio Tinto providing a co-lending project finance facility to OT of up to $750 million to be made available after sustainable underground production is achieved (with up to $300 million of such amount being available under a short-term secured advance directly to TRQ pending such co-lending); and
  • TRQ agreeing to conduct equity or rights offerings of up to $1.5 billion (with an initial offering of at least $650 million by no later than August 31, 2022).

The re-profiling of the existing OT project finance and any additional senior supplemental debt at OT will be subject to availability and terms and conditions being acceptable to Rio Tinto and TRQ, according to the company.

The OT Board has also approved the signing of an Electricity Supply Agreement to provide OT with a long-term source of power from the Mongolian grid, under terms already agreed with the Government of Mongolia. In meeting OT’s commitment to sourcing power domestically, Rio Tinto will work with the Government to support long-term renewable energy generation in support of the Mongolian grid. The Government of Mongolia and OT are in constructive discussions with the Inner Mongolia Power International Cooperation Company (IMPIC) for an extension of current power import arrangements beyond the current agreement of July 2023. IMPIC has indicated its support for an extension and commercial terms are being finalised.

Luvsannamsrain Oyun-Erdene, the Prime Minister of Mongolia, said: “The commencement of Oyu Tolgoi underground mining operations demonstrates to the world that Mongolia can work together with investors in a sustainable manner and become a trusted partner. As part of our ‘New Recovery Policy’, I am happy to express Mongolia’s readiness to work actively and mutually beneficially with global investors and partners.”

Rio Tinto Chief Executive, Jakob Stausholm, said: “We would like to thank the Government of Mongolia for their commitment to working productively with Rio Tinto and TRQ to reach this crucial agreement that will see one of the world’s largest copper growth projects move forward and firmly establish Mongolia as a global investment destination. This agreement represents a reset of our relationship and resolves historical issues between the OT project partners. We strongly believe in the future of this country and I am personally committed to ensuring that the people of Mongolia benefit strongly from OT along with our shareholders.

“I have visited Mongolia twice in the last few months and I cannot help but be proud of what has been achieved by our workforce, hand-in-hand with communities, suppliers and other partners. I would like to thank the many thousands of people involved for what they have achieved.

“The OT underground development will consolidate Rio Tinto’s position as a leading global supplier of copper at a time when demand is increasing, driven by its role in enabling decarbonisation and electrification in the race to net zero. We will also explore additional opportunities to decarbonise the OT operations, including sourcing renewable power.”

Steve Thibeault, Interim Chief Executive Officer of Turquoise Hill Resources, added: “Today is a landmark day for Turquoise Hill and a major milestone in the development of the Oyu Tolgoi underground development project. We are very excited to be starting work on the undercut, which is critical to unlocking the immense potential of this world-class, high-grade deposit for the benefit of all stakeholders. Following the agreements with the Government of Mongolia and the Amended Heads of Agreement with Rio Tinto being put in place, we now have greater certainty and confidence to complete construction of this once-in-a-generation mine that, when finished, is expected to be one of the largest copper producing mines in the world and a generator of vast economic value and employment in Mongolia and of returns for our shareholders for years to come. I want to thank the Government of Mongolia for its commitment to securing a balanced agreement that helps to advance the project while ensuring that all stakeholders including the people of Mongolia truly benefit from the development of this resource. This agreement says a lot about the positive environment for foreign investment in the country.”

By 2030 OT is expected to be the fourth largest copper mine in the world. It is a complex greenfield project comprising an underground block cave mine and copper concentrator as well as an open-pit mine which has been successfully operating for almost 10 years. It is also one of the most modern, safe, sustainable and water-efficient operations globally, with a workforce which is more than 96% Mongolian. Since 2010, OT has spent a total of $13.4 billion in-country, including $3.6 billion of taxes, fees and other payments to the state budget. The size and quality of this Tier 1 asset provides additional expansion options, which could see production sustained for many decades.

At peak production, OT is expected to produce around 500,000 t/y of copper on average from 2028 to 2036 from the open pit and underground, and an average of around 350,000 t for a further five years, compared with 163,000 t in 2021. The underground Ore Reserve has an average copper grade of 1.52%, which is more than three times higher than the open pit reserve, and contains 0.31 g/t Au.

Hudbay’s Constancia continuous improvement quest leads to MineSense XRF trial

Hudbay Minerals has one of the lowest cost per tonne copper sulphide operations in Peru on its hands at Constancia, but it is intent on continuously improving the mine’s margins and environmental performance through a commitment to continuous improvement. This has recently led it to exploring the potential of sensor-based ore sorting.

Hudbay’s operations at Constancia include the Constancia and Pampacancha pits, an 86,000 t/d ore processing plant, a waste rock facility, a tailings management facility and other ancillary facilities that support the operations.

The company increased reserves at the mine, located in the Cusco department, by 33 Mt at a grade of 0.48% Cu and 0.115 g/t Au last year – an increase of approximately 11% in contained copper and 12% in contained gold over the prior year’s reserves.

With the incorporation of Pampacancha and Constancia North, annual production at Constancia is expected to average approximately 102,000 t of copper and 58,000 oz of gold from 2021 to 2028, an increase of 40% and 367%, respectively, from 2020 levels, which were partially impacted by an eight-week temporary mine interruption related to a government-declared state of emergency.

Constancia now has a 16-year mine life (to 2037) ahead of it, but the company thinks there is a lot more value it can leverage from this long-life asset and it has been looking at incorporating the latest technology to prove this.

In recent years it has, for instance, worked with Metso Outotec to improve rougher flotation performance at Constancia using Center Launders in four e300 TankCells and installed a private LTE network to digitise and modernise its open-pit operations.

Peter Amelunxen, Vice President of Technical Services at Hudbay, said the Constancia ore sorting project – which has seen Hudbay partner with MineSense on a plan to trial the Vancouver-based cleantech company’s ShovelSense X-ray Fluorescence (XRF)-based sorting technology – was one of many initiatives underway to further improve the operating efficiency at Constancia.

“The ore sorting program is separate from the recovery uplift program at Constancia,” Amelunxen said, referring to a “potentially high-return, low capital opportunity” that could boost milled copper recovery by 2-3%.

He added: “The ore sorting program is expected to yield positive results at the mining phase of the operation and is expected to increase the mill head grade and reduce metal loss to the waste rock storage facility.”

Back in April 2021 during a virtual site visit, Hudbay revealed it was trialling bulk sorting at Constancia as one of its “optimisation opportunities”, with Amelunxen updating IM in mid-January on progress.

Hudbay has previously evaluated particle sorting at its Snow Lake operations in Manitoba – with the benefits outlined in a desktop study “muted” given “bottlenecks and constraints”, Amelunxen said – but, at Constancia, it considered XRF sorting from the onset for copper-grade only pre-concentration, due to its perception that this application came with the lowest potential risk and highest probability of success.

The company has a three-phase evaluation process running to prove this, with phase one involving a “bulk sorting amenability study”, phase two moving up to laboratory-scale testing and phase three seeing trials in the field.

The “bulk sorting amenability study” looked at downhole grade heterogeneity to estimate curves of sortability versus unit volume, Amelunxen detailed. Laboratory testing of drill core samples to evaluate the sensor effectiveness was then carried out before an economic analysis and long-range-plan modelling was conducted.

With the concept and application of bulk sorting having cleared all these stage gates, Hudbay, in November, started pilot testing of XRF sensors on a loader. This involved fitting a ShovelSense unit onto the 19 cu.m bucket of a Cat 994H wheel loader, with around 20 small stockpiles of “known grades” loaded onto the bucket and dispatched into a feeder and sampling system (pictured below, credit: Engels Trejo, Manager Technical Services, Hudbay Peru). With this process completed, the company is now awaiting the results.

At a similar time, the company moved onto demonstration trials of a “production” ShovelSense sensor unit on the 27 cu.m bucket of a Hitachi ECX5600-6 shovel operating in one of the pits. It has collected the raw spectral data coming off this unit since the end of November, with plans to keep receiving and analysing sensor data through to next month.

“We should have the finalised XRF calibration in February, at which time we’ll process the raw data collected during the three-month trial period and compare it with the short-term mine plan (ie grades of ore shipped),” Amelunxen said. “So, by the end of February or early March, we’ll be able to validate or finetune the economic model.”

Should the results look favourable, Amelunxen is confident that leasing additional sensors and installing them on the other two Hitachi ECX5600-6 shovels will not take long.

Credit: Engels Trejo, Manager Technical Services, Hudbay Peru

“Plans may change somewhat as the program unfolds,” he said. “For example, we may have success sorting ore, but feel additional calibration is required for waste sorting at Pampacancha, in which case we may install production sensors on Constancia ores while doing another trial program at Pampacancha.

“It all depends on the precision of the XRF calibration.”

Higher head grades and potentially higher copper recoveries may be the headline benefits of using ore sorting technology, but Hudbay is equally focused on obtaining several key environmental benefits, including reduced consumption of energy and water.

On the latter, Amelunxen said: “This is expected due to the processing of less ‘waste’ by removing uneconomic material earlier in the process and reducing the hauling and processing costs of the uneconomic material.”

Looking even further forward – past a potential commercial implementation of XRF-based ore sorting at Constancia – the company plans to evaluate the application of other sensors, too.

“For our future development copper project in Arizona, we plan to look at other sensors as well,” Amelunxen said, referencing the company’s Rosemont asset.

This ore sorting project is not the only project the processing team at Constancia are examining, as Amelunxen already hinted at.

As part of the recovery uplift project, it is installing equipment that will allow the operation to increase the overall mass recovery of the roughers, which is currently constrained by the downstream pumps and cleaning circuit.

“This will allow us to achieve an expected 2-3% increase in copper recoveries without impacting concentrate grade,” Amelunxen said.

It has various initiatives underway under the “Moly plant improvement projects” banner, too. This includes flowsheet optimisation, pH control in the cleaners and pH reduction in the bulk cleaners.

“This project has been in the works since late 2019, and the new mechanical agitator installation in the cleaning cells was completed during the August 2021 schedule mill maintenance shutdown and the new nitrogen plant was commissioned in the second half of the year,” Amelunxen explained. “The next steps are pH control in the cleaners (with CO2), water balance optimisation and potentially installing a Jameson flotation cell as a pre-rougher (the cell is already on site and not in use, it will be repurposed pending results of the pH trials).”

A flotation reagent optimisation study is also on the cards, aimed at reducing zinc and lead contamination in the copper concentrate.

“A depressant addition system is on the way to site and should be installed in February, with plant trials commencing in March,” Amelunxen said, explaining that this followed laboratory test work completed in 2021.

Calidus to incorporate solar power, battery storage into Warrawoona power mix

Calidus Resources has executed an agreement with Zenith Pacific for the construction of a 4 MW solar farm with 3.5 MW battery energy storage system at its Warrawoona gold project in Western Australia.

Zenith is currently constructing the 11 MW gas-fired power station at Warrawoona under a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). The construction of the solar farm is part of the PPA whereby Calidus purchases power from Zenith.

The solar farm will be constructed in the second half of 2022 and will feed into the distribution line between the power station and accommodation village.

Calidus Managing Director, Dave Reeves, said the decision to proceed with the solar farm and battery storage was in line with the company’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives.

“Calidus is committed to carbon reduction as part of its ESG policy,” he said. “This renewable microgrid is a cornerstone to our carbon reduction plan which includes the use of LNG, not diesel, and the ability of the LNG gensets to use up to 25% hydrogen.

“We are pleased to extend the relationship with Zenith to incorporate this renewables project, and look forward to its construction in the second half of this year.”

Calidus plans to start mining at Warrawoona in the June quarter of this year, and is forecast to initially produce 105,000 oz/y of gold.

Remote Energy takes fuel efficiency to next level with iON-DRIVE

Remote Energy has launched iON-DRIVE – the most compact, fuel-efficient solution in its anti-idle range.

The iON-DRIVE is a roof-mounted DC HVAC system with a built-in lithium-ion battery bank. The battery-powered HVAC system allows the truck’s main engine to shut off at idle while keeping the cab cool, reducing unnecessary idle time. With its purpose built, mine-spec steel assembly coupled with the highly efficient large face evaporator, the iON-DRIVE sets the standard for rooftop air conditioning systems in tough work environments, according to the company.

The iON-DRIVE has the capacity to run the HVAC system continuously for up to 30 minutes, with the built-in lithium-ion battery charged by the haul truck’s main battery bank, via a DC-to-DC charging interface.

Installation of the system on the cabin roof is simple, with the need to connect only two cables to the truck’s battery bank.

“The iON-DRIVE is most suited to haulage cycles with short idle times, allowing for sufficient battery charging from the truck’s main engine,” the company added.

Among the key benefits of iON-DRIVE are reduced fuel consumption and carbon emissions; lower maintenance costs; the extension of service intervals and asset life; the ability to maintain operator comfort; increase available operating shifts; and the ability to improve operating redundancy with the installation of a second HVAC system.

Remote Energy Director, Chris Baumann, said: “We see that the iON-DRIVE provides a simple and unique anti-idle solution for haul truck fleets with lower idle times. With the continued push to find ways to operate more efficiently and reduce emissions, the iON-DRIVE is one solution that is available today, to reduce unnecessary fuel burn at idle.

“With the addition of the iON-DRIVE to our range of anti-idle solutions, we now have a solution for each unique application and can provide idle reduction for various haul cycle scenarios.”

Metso Outotec ups the pumping ante with its MDM900

Metso Outotec has released its largest mill discharge pump to date, the MDM900, in a move that will see it compete for orders from the highest throughput processing operations in the world.

The MDM900 is the latest addition to Metso Outotec’s flagship Mill Discharge (MD) pump series, a pump designed for heavy-duty use in concentrator plants, where capacity and wear resistance are very important.

The MDM900 is an all-metal, thick-walled, extra heavy-duty pump designed specifically for extremely arduous mill duty applications. Its release comes less than a year after Metso Outotec officially launched the MDM800, which was then its largest metal pump model size.

Coming with an inlet size of 900 mm (36 in), the MDM900 is designed for flows up to 13,500 cu.m/h and heads up to 40 m. It is fitted with a FR2100 frame and has an impeller diameter of 2,100 mm.

Diwakar Aduri, Product Manager for MD Pumps at Metso Outotec, said: “Slurry handling is vital in maximising a minerals processing plant’s productivity and efficiency. The advanced design of the MDM900 enables minimised slurry velocities in the pumps, thus reducing the rate of wear significantly. This translates to increased uptime and productivity for our customers.

“We are also proud to have implemented many environmentally sustainable design initiatives in the MDM900 pump, which is part of our Planet Positive offering, as are all our MD Series pumps.”

Examples of these “environmentally sustainable” features include the reduced footprint of the MDM900 and its standard low-flow shaft seal to minimise the pump’s freshwater requirement during operation, Aduri added.

Metso Outotec MD Series pumps have been designed to match a mill’s uptime. They come in two tailored solutions, MDM and MDR. The MDM (Mill Discharge Metal) pumps are available in inlet size ranges of 250-900 mm, and the MDR (Mill Discharge Rubber) models come in inlet size ranges of 250-700 mm. Both pump types are suited for heavy-duty use in concentrator plants offering excellent resistance to abrasion and erosion, according to the company.