Tag Archives: Agnico Eagle Mines

IOC to test government-backed hyperspectral core scanning technology

Advanced drill core imaging technology being developed by College of the North Atlantic (CNA) and trialled at Iron Ore Company of Canada’s (IOC) site in Labrador, Canada, has received federal and provincial government backing to the tune of C$4.5 million ($3.6 million).

The Government of Canada, together with the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, believe the “game-changing” tech being developed by CNA “will position the region as a global leader in the mining industry”, the CNA said.

Their investments, which come on top of support from IOC and Agnico Eagle Mines, are helping advance the development of a Hyperspectral Scanning Unit (HSU) currently at IOC’s site in Labrador City conducting its first drill core scans.

The HSU, CNA says, produces high-resolution drill core images that will give mining companies a better understanding of a region’s geology. The new technology will make drill core logging more accurate, improve exploration processes and increase the potential to discover new, lucrative mineral deposits, according to the college.

Liz Kidd, President and CEO, College of the North Atlantic, said: “This state-of-the-art technology – one of the most advanced, high throughput hyperspectral drill core scanning units available globally – aligns perfectly with the college’s vision to further expand and develop its applied research and innovation arm so that we can assist industry in achieving positive, breakthrough results in the mining sector.

“We are also excited that our graduates will benefit from the training associated with the HSU that, in turn, will provide meaningful long-term benefits for the province’s future workforce and lead the way in the advancement of hyperspectral technology for the mining sector. We are proud to play a major role in this initiative.”

Chantal Lavoie, Chief Operating Officer, IOC, said the company looked forward to testing equipment at its operations in Labrador West to make IOC an even “more efficient, competitive and sustainable business for generations to come”.

Guy Gosselin, Senior Vice President of Exploration, Agnico Eagle Mines, added: “Agnico Eagle is pleased to be part of this partnership and excited with the potential it represents for our industry. The mobile HSU, developed by CNA, is breakthrough and innovative technology that will bring more robustness to data analysis in a field traditionally based on human observation, while improving its consistency and quality. Ultimately, it will lead to increased exploration and potentially more discoveries, which is key for the future of our business.”

Autonomous loading and hauling pays off at Agnico’s LaRonde, Kittila gold mines

Increased uptake of autonomous loading and hauling technology at the LaRonde (pictured) and Kittila gold mines has helped Agnico Eagle Mines post a record quarter of production for the last three months of 2020.

Payable gold production in the fourth quarter of 2020 was 501,445 oz at all-in sustaining costs of $985/oz, the company reported. This compared with 494,678 oz at an AISC of $1,039/oz in the prior-year period.

Homing in on LaRonde Complex (including the LaRonde mine and the LZ5 Mine), in Quebec, Canada, Agnico put the good performance at LaRonde – production of 105,729 oz during the quarter, down from 112,704 oz in the prior-year period when gold grades were 7.3% higher – down partially to the automation strategy that, the company said, had helped improve productivity and allow continuation of mucking activities during non-entry protocols related to seismicity.

In 2020, 13% of tonnes mucked from stopes at the LaRonde mine were carried out in automation mode and, in December 2020, a record 39% of the production mucking at the LaRonde mine was carried out from surface, which included 100% of the production mucking from the West mine area.

At LZ5, in 2020, 14% of tonnes mucked and hauled to surface were accomplished in automated mode with operators based on surface. This surpassed the 15% target the company had set. For 2021, it is expected 17% of the tonnage will be mucked and hauled remotely to surface and the production rate is expected to be sustained at around 3,000 t/d. “The LZ5 automation team will continue optimising the automated mining techniques,” Agnico said.

Agnico said the target for 2021 is to muck over 17% of the total tonnage for the LaRonde Complex from surface. The company said it is also carrying out work to perform production drilling using automation.

In a January presentation, Agnico stated that 10 LHDs and four trucks had been equipped with Sandvik’s AutoMine® system. Back in 2018, Sandvik announced that the LaRonde mine would become the first operation to use AutoMine with LTE communication network underground on a production scale.

To continue tailings deposition through the LaRonde Complex life of mine, Agnico is also constructing dry-stack tailings facilities, which are expected to be operational by the end of 2022. Dry stacking will help limit the footprint of the new tailings facility and improve the closure of the main tailings ponds, Agnico said.

Moving to Finland at the Kittila gold mine, the use of automation also paid off.

The company said Kittila continued delivering strong performance in the December quarter of 2020, with production above forecast by around 6,000 t. This also coincided with the commissioning of the expanded mill at Kittila, which is now ramping up towards the design capacity of 2 Mt/y.

The mine delivered a record full-year ore production of around 1.85 Mt in 2020, according to the company.

“This performance (in Q4) is driven by an improved fleet management and an increased usage of automation,” Agnico said.

Kittila has been testing autonomous hauling trucks and tele-remote equipment and is targeting to achieve 50% of production drilling and 15% of hauling remotely in 2021, it said.

On top of this, Agnico said the mill had consistently increased availability and the company was evaluating the implementation of advanced process control in 2021.

Weir’s Warman MCR pump more than doubles wear life at Agnico’s LaRonde mine

The superiority of genuine Warman® pumps and parts has been proven in a trial comparing the performance of a Warman MCR® 250 pump with a Warman AH® pump fitted with non-genuine spare parts at Agnico Eagle Mines’ LaRonde gold mine in Quebec, Canada, Weir Minerals says.

The mine had been using two Warman AH 12/10 slurry pumps to manage its SAG mill discharge since operations commenced in 1988. While these pumps were the latest technology at the time, the very coarse slurry was causing the pumps to wear out after just 1,600 hours, according to Weir.

“When a replicator proposed a trial of non-OEM pump liners and parts instead of our genuine Warman parts, they promised to double the wear life of the existing pump components,” Mike Swintak, Regional Senior Product Manager for Weir Minerals, said. “Our engineers investigated the root cause of the wear life problems experienced and decided a Warman MCR pump would achieve much better results compared to the AH pump with non-OEM parts.”

Instead of doubling it, the other manufacturer’s liners and impellers decreased the pump’s wear life by 300 hours, wearing out after just 1,300 hours. In addition to requiring six rebuilds per year, the non-genuine parts interrupted production due to discovery of premature cracks in the liner, Weir said.

Meanwhile, the Warman MCR 250 pump achieved 3,000 hours of continuous operation, requiring only three rebuilds and lowered spare parts costs alone by 36%, or $70,000 per year.

Swintak said: “The fantastic results achieved at LaRonde weren’t just due to the superior wear resistance offered by the pump’s Ultrachrome A05 wear material and superior hydraulic design of the MCR pump. Our engineers worked closely with Agnico Eagle operators to remove problems throughout the circuit contributing to the low wear life being achieved, such as revising their pump box level control procedures and monitoring system to ensure a constant level of 50-75%.”

Automated mucking and loading accelerates at LaRonde Zone 5

Automation efforts at Agnico Eagle Mines’ LaRonde complex in Quebec, Canada, continued to accelerate in the March quarter of 2020, with the company adding an automated production drill for testing at the LaRonde mine.

The complex, which includes the underground LaRonde mine and the LaRonde Zone 5 underground operation, has been testing out autonomous mucking and loading equipment for over a year.

In its March quarter results – which saw the company report a quarterly net loss of $21.6 million despite group production growing to 411,366 oz (from 398,217 oz a year earlier) – the company said it was evaluating an expansion of the mining rate to 3,000 t/d (previous guidance of 2,800 t/d) at LaRonde Zone 5. This followed an increase in daily tonnage in the most recent quarter thanks to continued productivity improvements and successful automation implementation (autonomous mucking and hauling).

Agnico also said automated mucking and hauling had already exceeded the target of 15% of 2020 tonnage in the March quarter alone.

The company said: “In 2020, the company will continue to test and refine automated mining techniques at LZ5. The goal is to increase the tonnage mined remotely to greater than 15% of the total tonnes mined in 2020. During the first quarter of 2020, LZ5 achieved the goal of exceeding 15% of total tonnes mined remotely and achieved a new daily record with 2,200 t/d mined with the automated fleet.”

At the LaRonde mine, meanwhile, the company said it continues to test automated equipment at the operation, explaining that, during the March quarter of 2020, the company began testing an automated production drill.

Quebec miners shut down operations following COVID-19 government order

The latest provincial government-mandated restrictions to address the COVID-19 situation have seen miners down tools at operations in Quebec, Canada.

Announced on March 23, the order was for the shutdown of all non-essential businesses and services for a period of three weeks, starting on midnight on March 24.

While mining was listed as one of the priority services, those in the mining sector have been instructed to minimise activities.

Yamana Gold, which along with Agnico Gold Mines’ jointly owns the Canadian Malartic mine (pictured), said it would ramp down operations at the mine following discussions with representatives of the Government of Quebec to “obtain additional clarity in regard to the order”.

The operation, Canada’s largest gold mine, will be on care and maintenance and minimal work will be taking place until the date specified in the order (April 13), it said.

Yamana said it was demobilising employees and contractors in a safe and orderly manner, leaving only a small number of employees on site to maintain property and equipment and oversee all environmental responsibilities and obligations.

“A return to full capacity at Canadian Malartic is expected to occur in an expedited manner as soon as the temporary restriction is lifted,” it said.

Yamana’s partner, Agnico Eagle Mines, also announced its LaRonde Complex and Goldex Mine, in the Abitibi region of Quebec, would be ramped down in an orderly fashion while ensuring the safety of employees and the sustainability of the infrastructure.

“Each of these operations are to be placed on care and maintenance until April 13, 2020, and, as instructed, minimal work will take place during that time,” the company said.

With its Meliadine and Meadowbank mining operations in Nunavut being serviced out of Quebec, it said it will also slow activities there.

Eldorado Gold, meanwhile, has temporarily minimised operations at its Lamaque underground mine until April 13.

As of today, it will ramp down operational activity and maintain only essential personnel on site responsible for maintaining appropriate health, safety, security and environmental systems, it said.

“The company remains committed to resuming operations in a timely manner once the suspension is lifted,” Eldorado Gold added.

The news came on the same day it announced the receipt of a Certificate of Authorization from the Quebec Ministry of Environment to allow for the expansion of underground production from the Triangle deposit at Lamaque from 1,800 t/d to 2,650 t/d, once operations resume. This expansion could see annual average gold production rise to 170,000 oz, from close to 130,000 oz.

Hecla Mining has also slowed operations at its Casa Beradi gold mine in the province, with the company saying it will have limited operations in place to protect the facilities and environment while the suspension is ongoing.

Rio Tinto, which operates aluminium operations in the province, said it was working with the government to comply with its directive.

“Rio Tinto understands that the Quebec government has designated industrial complexes including the aluminium sector and the mining industry as essential industries but instructed that they must reduce their business activity to the minimum,” it said.

Over the border in Ontario, there has been a more mixed response to the COVID-19 situation, led by the provincial government taking a different tack to politicians in Quebec.

Some mines, such as Kirkland Lake Gold’s Detour Lake operation and Wesdome Gold Mines‘ Eagle River complex, have reduced the amount of workers on site, whereas others like Newmont (at Musselwhite) have put operations into care and maintenance mode.

Ontario’s government has issued a similar notice to its neighbour about non-essential businesses, but its definition is different.

Businesses that ensure global continuity of supply of mining materials and products, including metals such as copper, nickel and gold, and that support supply chains in northern Ontario including mining operations, production and processing; mineral exploration and development; and mining supply and services that support supply chains in the mining industry including maintenance of operations, health and safety, are all considered ‘essential’.

This extends beyond mining companies, too, with Maestro Digital Mine one of the recent Ontario-based suppliers to confirm it was “deemed an essential service”. It said it would continue to provide support to the underground mining sector, “keeping miners safe with gas sensors and airflow sensors” during this time.

Northvolt charging up Epiroc battery-electric mining solutions

Northvolt has recently delivered its largest order of lithium-ion battery systems to date to Epiroc, as the two companies’ partnership continues to blossom.

The delivery of systems – which will be integrated into Epiroc’s mid-sized drilling family, Scooptram ST14 LHD and Minetruck MT42 – is the latest in a series made for Epiroc since 2018 and represents the first commercial roll-out of the latest generation of battery system from Northvolt, the Swedish battery developer and manufacturer said.

In an online post from Northvolt, the company interviewed Anders Lindkvist of Epiroc’s underground division to hear about the delivery and find out what it means for the original equipment manufacturer.

“The development of the battery system solution we’re integrating into Epiroc machines, both in terms of hardware and software, has been a true collaboration between Epiroc and Northvolt,” Lindkvist said. “The most recent delivery represents a major update compared to the earlier ones.

“Implemented into the new design are a lot of improvements in terms of reliability and serviceability. These design improvements come from the learnings taken from the common trial, which Northvolt and Epiroc have been involved in over the last 18 months. The changes appear promising.”

Demonstration activities which Lindkvist spoke of began with machine testing at Epiroc’s facilities in Örebro. But, in Spring 2019, testing stepped up to involve the first real-world test for the new battery-powered machines when Epiroc, as part of the EU funded Sustainable Intelligent Mining Systems (SIMS) program, brought several electric machines into commercial operation at Agnico Eagle’s Kittilä gold mine in Finland.

The fleet, running on earlier generation batteries supplied by Northvolt, included a Minetruck MT42, an underground truck which has a 42 t payload capacity – making it one of the largest battery-operated mine trucks on the market.

Commenting on these recent experiences, Lindkvist said: “We’ve gained a deeper knowledge of the limitations of batteries and greater perspective on how to handle and operate them. The limitations are fewer than on diesel engines, but they are different, so these need to be addressed with different actions. This was something we started to learn with our first-generation electric machines, but we now have a much deeper knowledge of the issues.”

Machine performance

“The performance we’re getting from the machines is at the level we expected,” explains Lindkvist. “Actually, battery running time appears longer than estimated, and we have not yet finalised the tuning of energy management which could optimise performance further.”

With battery cell development and optimisation of battery management systems as Lindkvist noted, driving time is likely to increase further still.

“Additionally, we’ve collected feedback from operators who experience the machines to be more powerful,” noted Lindkvist. “Other benefits are becoming clear too – such things as the quietness of operations, and possibility to talk to bystanders next to machines, seem more important than we thought.”

New solutions for an electric future

Close collaboration between Epiroc and Northvolt’s industrial battery design and development teams has been critical, Northvolt says. For Epiroc, an interesting dimension to the partnership is how it has shifted the company’s approach to “surrounding product development”.

Lindkvist said: “Epiroc has a typically involved itself with implementing well-proven solutions; it is very exciting to work with technology in the forefront. Combine this with the rapid growth of Northvolt, in an area where much is happening, and you get a very inspiring and innovative collaboration.”

Looking ahead, the path is bright. Evaluation of electric machine performance and operations will continue with the demonstration project in Finland, and validation of the new battery systems will be undertaken, according to Northvolt.

“As validation is concluded, this new generation system will be available for delivery to customers all over the world,” Lindkvist says. “This will be the moment when we grow to substantial volumes and this is very significant for Epiroc.”

Epiroc already has a sense of demand for these machines. In September 2019, the company announced orders for battery-electric mining equipment from customers in several countries including Finland, Australia and Canada. The orders were for Epiroc’s latest generation of electric machines consisting of 14 t and 18 t loaders, the Minetruck MT42 and a mid-sized drilling family including face drilling, production drilling and rock reinforcement rigs.

Epiroc aims to be able to offer its complete fleet of underground mining equipment as battery-electric versions by 2025.

“We will continue to diesel engine versions, but the volume of machines running on battery power will grow fast as customer readiness develops further,” Lindkvist says.

Successful electrification of mines, of course, relies on more than just machines. To operate a battery-electric fleet effectively, mines need to be designed differently, charging stations and ancillary equipment must be in place and operating profiles for efficient machine usage need to be established.

“Fortunately, the ongoing work of Epiroc is helping to fill out an in-depth understanding of what an electric mine may look like,” Northvolt says.

While underground mines might be some of the first to go electric, in large part thanks to the potential reductions in ventilation underground that create a strong business case, electric machines will soon become common above ground, too, according to Northvolt.

It says: “Epiroc has observed that ongoing success in the underground mine market is proving the viability of the technology and its competitiveness against performance of diesel-powered equipment – points which serve to strengthen the case for developing surface mining solutions.”

This is an edited version of a post that first appeared on Northvolt’s website here.

ICMM looks to align mining industry on cleaner, safer vehicles

When the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) launched its Innovation for Cleaner, Safer Vehicles (ICSV) program just over a year ago, some industry participants may not have realised how much progress could be made so quickly by taking a collaborative approach.

The ICMM has proven influential across the mining industry since its foundation in 2002 in areas such as corporate and social governance, environmental responsibility, and stakeholder relations, yet it has rarely, until this point, engaged directly as an industry group with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and service providers.

Close to 12 months after being established, it’s clear to see the program and the council itself has been successful in bridging a divide.

It has been able to corral a significant portion of the mining and mining OEM market players into a major industry discussion on core focus areas set to dominate the sector for the next two decades.

Now 27 of the world’s leading mining companies and 16 of the best-known truck and mining equipment suppliers are collaborating in a non-competitive space “to accelerate the development of a new generation of mining vehicles that will make vehicles cleaner and safer,” the ICMM says.

The ICSV program was created to address three of the most critical safety, health and environment performance issues in the ICMM’s mission towards zero harm and decarbonisation. Achieving this goal would involve the industry introducing and adopting the next generation of equipment to respond to the challenges.

More specifically, the program aims to:

  • Introduce greenhouse gas emission-free surface mining vehicles by 2040;
  • Minimise the operational impact of diesel exhaust by 2025; and
  • Make collision avoidance technology (capable of eliminating vehicle related collisions) available to mining companies by 2025.

In all three, it seeks to address the industry’s innovation challenge of ‘who motivates who’ or the chicken and egg analogy, according to Sarah Bell, Director, Health, Safety and Product Stewardship for the ICMM.

“You can imagine a mining company saying, ‘we can’t adopt technology that doesn’t yet exist’ or an OEM saying, ‘we can’t invest in development because we’re getting mixed market signals’. This is, of course, why this program has been set up in the way it has,” she told IM. “Bringing both the mining company and OEMs together, they have been able to work through these normal innovation challenges and align on defining the direction of travel and critical complexity to be solved for each of the ambitions set.”

High-level participation

The list of companies the ICMM has been able to involve in this program is impressive.

It is being guided by a CEO advisory group of six; three from the mining community – Andrew Mackenzie (CEO, BHP), Mark Cutifani (CEO, Anglo American) and Nick Holland (CEO, Gold Fields) – and three from the mining equipment supply side – Denise Johnson (Group President of Resource Industries at Caterpillar), Max Moriyama (President of the Mining Business Division at Komatsu) and Henrik Ager (President of Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology).

On the mining company front, ICMM membership makes up around 30% of the total metal market share, with some 46% in copper, 27% in gold and 42% in iron ore. Participating OEMs and third-party technology providers, meanwhile, include the three majors above, plus Cummins, Epiroc, Wabtec Corporation (formerly GE), Hexagon Mining, Hitachi Construction Machinery, Liebherr, MacLean Engineering, MTU, Modular Mining Systems, PBE Group, Nerospec, Future Digital Communication and Miller Technology.

Bell says the high-level participation builds the “widespread confidence” needed to accelerate investment in these three key areas”, while the ICMM’s focus on the leadership side of the technology integration equation and change management has proven “absolutely key”.

She clarified: “This collaboration operates under anti-competition and anti-trust rules. Our role is to convene the parties, motivate action and promote solutions.”

The program offers a “safe space for the OEMs and members to work openly in a non-competitive environment”, she added, explaining that the aim is not to come up with “preferred technologies”, but define the “functional and operational pathways required to meet the ambitions set”.

Vehicle interaction (VI)

Some of the ambitions look easier to achieve than others.

For instance, collision avoidance and proximity detection technology has made huge strides in the last decade, with the ICMM arguing its 2025 target is like a “sprint”, compared with the “10,000 m race” that is minimising DPM underground by 2025 and the longer-term aim to introduce GHG-free surface mining vehicles by 2040.

“There are regulations that require implementation of collision avoidance and proximity detection technology by the end of 2020 in South Africa,” Bell said. This will undoubtedly provide a catalyst for further developments to speed up.

The ICSV program is also leveraging the work of the Earth Moving Equipment Safety Round Table (EMESRT) in its development of fundamental functional/performance requirements for operators and technology providers.

These requirements were updated and released by EMESRT in September and are known as ‘PR5A’.

Credit: Hexagon Mining

Bell delved into some detail about these requirements:

“The EMERST requirements are designed around a nine-level system that seeks to eliminate material unwanted scenarios such as – equipment to person, equipment to equipment, equipment to environment and loss of control,” she said.

“The fundamental change with this newly released set of functional requirements by EMESRT is that the mining industry users have defined the functional needs for levels 7-9 (operator awareness, advisory controls, and intervention controls). That stronger level of collaboration hasn’t necessarily been there.”

EMESRT and its guidelines have been given an expanded global platform through the ICMM’s ICSV, with the program, this year, providing the convening environment for users and technology providers to help finalise these updated requirements, according to Bell.

With all of this already in place, one could be forgiven for thinking the majority of the hard work involved with achieving the 2025 goal is done, but the working group focused on VI knows that while OEMs continue to retrofit third-party vehicle collision and avoidance systems to their machines the job is not complete.

“Let’s think about the seatbelt analogy: you don’t give buyers of vehicles a choice as to whether they want a seatbelt in their car; it just comes with the car,” Bell said.

“At the moment, by design, vehicles don’t always have this collision and avoidance systems built in, therefore there is a big opportunity for collaboration between OEMs and third-party technology providers.”

Underground DPM goals

“The DPM working group have recognised that, in the case of the DPM ambition, ‘the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed’,” Bell said.

“Bringing together the OEMs and the mining companies this year through the ICSV program has enabled the group to explore the variety of existing solutions out there today,” she added.

These existing solutions include higher-tier engines, battery-electric equipment, tethered electric machinery, fuel cell-equipped machines for narrow vein mining and solutions to remove DPMs and other emissions from the environment like Johnson Matthey’s CRT system.

And, there are numerous examples from North America – Newmont Goldcorp at Borden, and Glencore and Vale in Sudbury – South America – Codelco at El Teniente Underground – and Europe – Agnico Eagle Mines at Kittilä (Finland, pictured) – to draw from.

Bell also mentioned some examples from Australia where regulatory changes have seen miners apply existing technology and carry out changes in their work plans and maintenance practices to minimise DPM emissions.

Haulage and loading flexibility, battery charging and mine design have all come under the spotlight since these new generation of ‘green’ machines have emerged, so achieving the 2025 goal the ICSV stated is by no means a foregone conclusion.

“There remains more work to do in achieving diesel-free vehicles underground,” Bell said.

The interested parties are aware of this and the program’s DPM maturity framework is helping miners and OEMs plot a course to reaching the target, she explained.

“The DPM maturity framework promotes existing solutions available today that would enable a mining operation to reduce their DPM emissions to a level that would meet the ambition level (shown as Level 4 – transition to zero),” she said.

These frameworks are useful for starting a “change conversation”, Bell said, explaining that mining companies can assess within their organisations where they currently sit on the five-level chart and discuss internally how to move up the levels to meet their goals.

These same frameworks look beyond minimising “the operational impact” of DPM emissions underground, with Bell explaining that Level 5 of the maturity framework involves “non-DPM emitting vehicles”.

GHG-free surface mining vehicles

Even further in the distance is the longer-term target of introducing greenhouse gas emission-free surface mining vehicles by 2040.

This ambition, more than any other, is less clearly defined in terms of technological solutions across the industry.

While battery-electric solutions look like having the goods to reach DPM-free status underground with expected developments in battery technology and charging, the jury is still out on if they can create a GHG-free large-scale open-pit mining environment.

The world’s largest battery-electric haul truck – eMining’s 63-t payload eDumper (pictured) – may have proven its worth at a Ciments Vigier-owned quarry in Switzerland, but the world’s largest open-pit mines require a solution on another scale altogether.

As Bell said: “There is a lot of work to do to develop batteries at scale for surface fleet that suit the different operating conditions.

“That’s a key point because that lends itself to the fact that we don’t want one solution; we will need multiple solutions. We don’t want to stifle innovation; we want to encourage it.”

ICMM member Anglo American has hinted that hydrogen power could be one solution, and the miner is looking to show this next year with the development of its hydrogen-powered 300-t payload haul truck.

There has also been in the last 18-24 months a mini renaissance of trolley assist projects that, ABB’s Gunnar Hammarström told IM recently, could, in the future, work in tandem with battery-powered solutions to provide a GHG-free solution.

The ability for industry to pilot and validate technology options like this “within the boundaries of anti-competition” is crucial for its later adoption in the industry, Bell said.

She said a key enabler of industry decarbonisation is access to cost competitive clean electricity, which would indicate that regions like South America and the Nordic countries could be of interest in the short and medium term for deploying pilot projects.

It is this goal where the industry R&D spend could potentially ramp up; something the ICMM and the ICSV is aware of.

“For the OEMs and mining companies to effectively minimise capital expenditure, optimise R&D expenditure and reduce the change management required by the industry, there needs to be a careful balance of encouraging innovation of solutions, whilst managing the number of plausible outcomes,” Bell said.

In terms of encouraging the development of these outcomes, carbon pricing mechanisms could provide some positive industry momentum. Vale recently acknowledged that it would apply an internal carbon tax/price of $50/t when analysing its future projects, so one would expect other companies to be factoring in such charges to their future mine developments.

Industry-wide GHG emission caps could also provide a catalyst. In countries such as Chile – where up to 80% of emissions can come from haul trucks, according to ICMM Senior Programme Officer, Verónica Martinez – carbon emission reduction legislation could really have an impact on technology developments.

Forward motion

While 2019 was a year when the three working groups – made up of close to 50 representatives in each work stream – outlined known barriers or opportunities that might either slow down or accelerate technology developments, 2020 will be the year that regional workshops convened to “encourage first adopters and fast followers” to move these three ambitions forward take place, Bell said.

A knowledge hub containing the previously spoken of maturity frameworks (delivered for all three groups) will allow the wider industry outside of the ICMM membership to gain a better understanding of how the miner-OEM-service provider collaboration is working.

Bell said the ICMM already has a number of members testing these group frameworks on an informal self-assessment basis to understand “how they are being received at an asset level and feedback insights to the group in an effort to understand how we may portray an industry representative picture of where we are today”.

Such strategies bode well for achieving these goals into the future and, potentially, changing the dynamic that has existed between end users and suppliers in the mining sector for decades.

Bell said: “The feedback that we got from OEMs is that mining companies had completely different objectives, but they have now greater confidence that we are aligned on the direction of travel towards the ambitions set.”

TOMRA seminar highlights sensor-based ore sorting benefits

TOMRA recently held a seminar on sustainable mining solutions and sensor-based sorting that, it said, addressed major challenges of the mining industry, including increasing pressure to be more financially streamlined and radically more efficient, while addressing environmental and sustainability concerns.

Sensor-based sorting (SBS) is proving to be an increasingly important tool both to formulate optimal solutions for greenfield projects and to help conquer challenges for keeping brownfields operations viable, converting the mining operation’s resource into value, according to TOMRA.

During this seminar at the Colorado School of Mines, TOMRA’s specialists were joined by guest speakers to examine all aspects of a sensor-based sorting operation with a broad range of topics including sorting technology, applications, plant design, test work and economic considerations.

The 62 participants came from all across the US and Canada, and included representatives from mining companies, engineering firms and students and professors eager to learn more about the applications and technology.

Corby Anderson, Harrison Western Professor at the Colorado School of Mines, opened the seminar with an introduction of recycling, recovery and sorting. The next talk focused on sensor-based sorting technologies and their applications, as well as highlighting fully operational SBS plants in the mining industry.

TOMRA’s Mathilde Robben explained the importance of setting objectives for SBS and the financial and technical aspects to evaluate.

“The most critical factors to consider when assessing the feasibility of sorting are throughput requirements, particle size and potential water usage, as well as the mineralogy of the ore,” TOMRA said, adding that having a clear understanding of where sorting can benefit in the process is paramount when planning to use this technology.

Test work is the best way to determine if SBS will work for an application, and TOMRA’s Chris Korsten explained the company’s test work philosophy to identify the best solution that will meet the mining operation’s specific conditions and objectives.

Guest speaker Erik Stepperud of Hazen Research, the industrial R&D company specialising in the mining, chemical, energy and environmental industries, shared his expertise in assays and interpretation of test results, while Craig Murray of the Saskatchewan Research Council spoke about testing and support services for projects using sorting technology.

Downstream impacts

When designing optimal sorting plants, it is critical to understand the necessary auxiliary components for materials handling, such as screens, washing and conveying, and where to place the sorter in the flowsheet to optimise the process and get the most out of SBS, according to TOMRA.

Particle size is critical to SBS, so designing optimal crushing and screening units is vital, and TOMRA invited expert speakers to cover these topics: Jörn Rohleder of Outotec, which specialises in designing leading technologies and services for the sustainable use of natural resources, discussed crushing design and Eli Cannell of Joest, a leader in vibration technology, elaborated on screening. Greg Black of Golden Eagle Technologies, meanwhile, covered the topic of dust extraction.

SBS can have a huge positive impact on the downstream operations of a flowsheet, as more waste is rejected from the process upstream. This means waste is not carried through the rest of the process, resulting in significant savings in energy, water and chemicals. A further benefit is the reduction of fine tailings that are environmentally challenging to manage.

The seminar was very well received, according to TOMRA, and achieved its goal of providing a pragmatic foundation on SBS projects. Genevieve Gosselin, Senior Technical Metallurgist at Agnico Eagle Mines, said, “The seminar gave us keys for the implementation of ore sorting in brownfields and greenfields mining projects”. Vera Gella, Metallurgist at BBA, said: “For us, the test work preparation and flowsheet design are most relevant to what we do every day and being able to quickly assess whether or not sorting is applicable to a given project. Like Jörn pointed out, if you pick the wrong crushing/SBS circuit design up front, it can drastically change the outcome of a project. It’s critical to think carefully about how to get the most out of your sorting circuit.”

It also raised awareness of aspects that participants may not have considered in the past. For Gosselin it was “how important the geology of the deposit is, and the need to evaluate this before starting bench and pilot scale testing”. Gella, on the other hand, was struck by the sustainability aspect, which is becoming increasingly important: “One of the things that we hadn’t thought about because our scope was focused on the economic tradeoff was the environmental impacts of SBS. The environment is becoming more and more of a focus for all stakeholders and will be a key driver for mining projects going forward.”

Agnico continuing to innovate at Kittilä gold mine as shaft project progresses

Agnico Eagle is likely to leverage more innovation at its Kittilä gold mine in northern Finland judging by André van Wageningen’s presentation at the FEM conference in Levi, this week.

In a talk titled, Building future mines through collaboration, van Wageningen, Engineering Manager of the Shaft project at Agnico Eagle Finland, said the company was testing out battery-electric equipment and could potentially apply LTE in the underground mine next year.

Much of the battery-electric machine testing the company is carrying out at the mine is in partnership with the EU-funded SIMS project, but van Wageningen said the company has also acquired two electric bolters outside of the program.

As recently as last week, Agnico tested out an Epiroc MT42 Minetruck and ST14 Scooptram at the mine (pictured), with van Wageningen saying the trials had, so far, gone well, with operators noticing less heat generation and vibrations, and better air quality within the operating environment.

“The battery capacity is of course the main concern,” he said in answer to an audience question about how the electrified equipment had so far performed. “Our mine is designed to drive up and…[the machines] have a limited capacity for [that].”

On the topic of collaboration, van Wageningen mentioned that if Agnico had decided on the use of battery-electric and electrified equipment four or five years ago, it would have likely deepened the shaft further and redesigned the mine to suit the reduced ventilation needs and required battery charging/changeout infrastructure.

“If you go for electrification, you either do it or you don’t as you have to build charging stations for this,” he said, adding that these need to be plotted around the mine in relevant locations to ensure the machines are as productive as possible.

As it stands, the company plans to go down to 1,040 m below surface as part of an expansion plan at the mine to increase production by 25% to 2 Mt/y of ore. This could see Kittilä add 50,000-70,000 oz/y of gold to its profile.

The company is building the 5.6 m diameter shaft by, first, raiseboring to 4 m diameter and then slashing to 5.6 m, van Wageningen said. The company is then concrete casting the shaft.

van Wageningen said Agnico has raisebored down to 875 m, and the 94 m headframe was likely to be finalised in the very near future.

The deepening of Kittilä and the evolution towards using autonomous underground machinery is probably behind the company’s plans to leverage LTE communications at the operation.

Agnico is already a leader when it comes to LTE, having become the first company to roll out the communications technology at an underground mine – the La Ronde Zone 5 operation in Quebec, Canada. This move was predicated on Agnico trialling autonomous equipment underground at the mine. In its June quarte results, the company said results from these trials had produced “favourable” results.

Gold price rise revealing exploration deficit, Wood Mackenzie says

Even though the resurgent gold price has garnered a renewed sense of optimism in the gold industry, a lack of exploration spend from miners means it is facing a potential period of secular decline over the long-term, according to Wood Mackenzie’s gold team.

Exploration budgets were slashed following the fall in the gold price from the highs that were reached in 2011/2012 and they have since failed to recover, according to Wood Mackenzie.

“The slight rebound in exploration spend we have seen over the past couple of years has largely been focused on brownfield projects and near-mine development,” the analysts said. “This has not been sufficient to replenish mined ounces and, as such, peak gold supply is now a very real possibility.”

Over the past couple of months, with gold breaking through $1,500/oz, it seems that exploration activity may be turning a bit of a corner.

The analysts provided evidence:

  • In late June, Agnico Eagle Mines started an exploration drilling program at its Amaruq site in an effort to convert underground indicated resources;
  • On September 4, Polyus announced the completion of an exploration drill program at its Sukhoi Log project (pictured) that totalled 203,647 m and is planning 30,000 m of infill drilling in 2020; and
  • On September 10, Newcrest reported that its exploration program on the Havieron project, located 45 km east of Telfer in Australia, has four operating drill rigs, which have cut 6,166 m and a fifth drill will begin in September.

It will be some time, however, before this activity translates into reserves and ultimately into production.

Proposed exploration budgets for the largest producers in 2019 remain fairly conservative compared with the levels reached in 2012, according to the analysts. It would therefore seem unlikely that the trend in declining reserves will be abated this year.

Producers have been very vocal in reaffirming their strategy of cost control, portfolio management and capital discipline, particularly since the run up in the gold price, ensuring they do not get criticised for the same type of costly M&A and marginal project spend they carried out in the previous gold price highs.

“How steadfast miners will be to this strategy into 2020 and beyond, if prices continue to remain well supported, remains to be seen,” the analysts said.

Due to insufficient exploration spend, gold reserves have depleted significantly with the global average mine life falling from 16 years in 2012, to an estimated 11 years in 2018, they said. However, the largest producers are not facing quite such an acute situation, with their collective average mine life still over 16 years. “It is perhaps therefore not so surprising that they can afford a more calculated approach to replenishing reserves.”

To secure their longevity as pillars of the gold industry, Wood Mackenzie said it has seen heightened M&A activity and miners focusing on their core assets. While this may help to bolster balance sheets through improved operational performance and realised ‘synergies’, it seemingly does little to address the problem the industry is facing with regards to how to sustain current production levels.

“We have, as of late, noticed an uptick in some majors opting to increase their footholds in a select few juniors with promising exploration opportunities,” the analysts said.

Agnico Eagle, AngloGold Ashanti, Kinross and Newcrest are actively investing in, or entering into joint-ventures with junior gold companies to create long-term value.

Agnico Eagle announced a proposal on June 24, 2019 for an all-share acquisition of Alexandria Minerals Corporation at a $0.05 per share premium to the Chantrell Ventures Corp offer; however, O3 Mining acquired Alexandria on August 1, 2019.

AngloGold Ashanti upped its stake in Pure Gold Mining to 14.3% on July 16, 2019, which owns the Madsen gold project in Red Lake, Ontario.

Kinross purchased the near-surface, early-stage Chulbatkan project in Russia from N-Mining Limited for a total consideration of $283 million on July 31, 2019.

And, Newcrest entered into a 70-30 joint venture with Imperial Metals on August 16, 2019, where Newcrest will be the operators of the Red Chris mine, a potential ‘Tier One’ asset in British Columbia, Canada, the gold miner has said.

The analysts said: “We expect to see this trend of increased M&A activity to continue, particularly amongst the more mid-tier gold producers as they look to solidify their own positions in the industry. This will likely encompass mergers with peers to unlock shareholder value and the acquisition of assets that majors have determined to be non-core.

“This may help to progress some later stage projects into production that have been sitting on the shelf for a number of years, but we are not anticipating a knee jerk reaction to current prices. Smaller projects which have a short payback period, in a low sovereign risk jurisdiction, are an attractive proposition and we could see a number of these projects being fast tracked into production.”

And, going forward, to address the predicament of declining reserves, if prices remain elevated miners may be inclined to review their reserve and resource price assumptions, the analysts said.