Tag Archives: Canada Mining Innovation Council

BluVein’s underground dynamic charging developments accelerating

BluVein, after officially receiving agreement and project approval from all project partners, has initiated the third phase of technology development and testing of its underground mine electrification solution, BluVein1, it says.

BluVein is a joint venture between Australia-based mining innovator Olitek and Sweden-based electric highways developer Evias. The company has devised a patented slotted (electric) rail system, which uses an enclosed electrified e-rail system mounted above or beside the mining vehicle together with the BluVein hammer that connects the electric vehicle to the rail.

The system, which is OEM agnostic, provides power for driving the vehicle, typically a mine truck, and charging the truck’s batteries while the truck is hauling load up the ramp and out of an underground mine.

The underground-focused development under BluVein is coined BluVein1, with the open-pit development looking to offer dynamic charging for ultra-class haul trucks called BluVein XL. This latter project was recently named among eight winning ideas selected to progress to the next stage of the Charge On Innovation Challenge.

The purpose of the third phase of the BluVein1 technology development is to:

  • Conduct a full-scale refined hammer (collector) and arm design and testing with a second prototype;
  • Execute early integration works with mining partners and OEMs;
  • Provide full-power dynamic energy transfer for a vehicle demonstration on a local test site; and
  • Confirm a local test site for development.

IM understands that the company is close to sealing an agreement for a local test site where it will carry out trials of the dynamic charging technology.

James Oliver, CEO, BluVein, said the third phase represents an essential final pre-pilot stage of BluVein1.

“It excites me that the BluVein solution is becoming an industry reality,” he said. “The faster BluVein1 is ready for deployment, the better for our partners and the mining industry globally.”

BluVein recently entered a Memorandum of Understanding with Epiroc, where the Sweden-based OEM will provide the first ever diesel-to-battery-converted Minetruck MT42 underground truck for pilot testing on the slotted electric rail system from BluVein.

“This MoU also ensures that we are designing and developing the system into a real-world BEV for full-scale live testing and demonstration on a pilot site in 2023,” BluVein says.

In addition to Epiroc, IM understands BluVein is working with Sandvik, MacLean, Volvo and Scania, among others, on preparing demonstration vehicles for the BluVein1 pilot site.

The BluVein1 consortium welcomed South32 into the project in May, joining Northern Star Resources, Newcrest Mining, Vale, Glencore, Agnico Eagle, AngloGold Ashanti and BHP, all of which have signed a consortium project agreement that aims to enable final system development and the construction of a technology demonstration pilot site in Australia.

The project is being conducted through the consortium model by Rethink Mining, powered by the Canada Mining Innovation Council (CMIC), which CMIC says is a unique collaboration structure that fast-tracks mining innovation technologies such as BluVein and CAHM (Conjugate Anvil Hammer Mill).

Carl Weatherell, Executive Director and CEO, CMIC/President Rethink Mining Ventures, said: “With the urgent need to decarbonise, CMIC’s approach to co-develop and co-deploy new platform technologies is the way to accelerate to net zero greenhouse gases. The BluVein consortium is a perfect example of how to accelerate co-development of new technology platforms.”

Oliver concluded: “The BluVein1 consortium is a great reminder that many hands make light work, and through this open collaboration with OEMs and mining companies, we’re moving faster together towards a cleaner, greener future for mining.”

Novamera and OZ Minerals to take surgical mining concept forward with new MoU

Novamera Inc and OZ Minerals have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that, they say, provides a basis of common understanding to support the creation of a “collaborative innovation relationship” between the parties.

The two companies share a desire to unlock value in stranded mineral assets, transform the mining project lifecycle and enable the world’s raw material needs to be met responsibly, equitably and sustainably, they said. To that end, the partnership plans to engage in certain activities including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Participation by OZ Minerals in the Canada Mining Innovation Council (CMIC) Consortium of Mining Companies to trial Novamera’s near borehole imaging tool (NBIT) at various project sites later in 2022;
  • Assess the potential of deploying Novamera’s technology within OZ Minerals’ project portfolio;
  • Collaboratively evaluate potential project opportunities; and
  • Co-develop collateral to articulate the operational experience and value proposition associated with Novamera’s technology.

The agreement follows Novamera being named as one of seven companies in OZ Minerals’ ‘Scalable and Adaptable’ mining cohort to work together to explore flexible mine design, in September. The challenge was run as a partnership between OZ Minerals’ Think & Act Differently Incubator, Canada-based Inspire Resources and Unearthed.

Dustin Angelo, President and CEO of Novamera, said: “Since last September, we have been working with the Think & Act Differently team on the Scalable & Adaptable Mining Challenge. Over that period of time, we realised we share common goals and ideas on the direction of the mining industry and where to unlock value. The MoU will allow us to focus our efforts collectively and begin to leverage our individual core competencies to create a tremendous amount of value for each of our companies.”

Katie Hulmes, General Manager Transformation at OZ Minerals, added: “The Novamera technology can enable surgical mining. This approach has the potential to operate with less waste, water, energy and a smaller footprint. We look forward to working with Novamera as part of the CMIC Consortium and various internal projects.”

Novamera, through surgical mining, has set out to adapt a combination of drilling and imaging techniques already proven in the oil & gas industry for the narrow-vein mining sector, providing the technical and economical means to mine steeply dipping narrow-vein orebodies with the reduced footprint disturbance modern mining operations require.

Last year it carried out a proof of concept trial of the technology at the Signal Gold-owned Romeo and Juliet deposit in Newfoundland, Canada, which was designed to test the entire surgical mining system and process, which is made up of three steps. This includes drilling a pilot hole with a standard NQ-sized diamond core rig and sending imaging tools down through the core barrel on wireline; bringing in a large-diameter drill to drill to depth following the trajectory provided by the imaging tool and extracting the cuttings; and backfilling the holes thereafter.

Angelo told IM recently that the company had assembled a consortium of companies looking to co-fund a field trial of the company’s minimum viable product version of the NBIT (the version used at Romeo and Juliet, pictured), which is the key enabling technology within surgical mining, through CMIC.

CMIC’s CanMicro technology wins top prize in Crush It! Challenge

The Canada Mining Innovation Council’s cleantech solution, CanMicro, has been named as the grand prize winner of the Crush It! Challenge, being awarded a C$5 million ($3.9 million) grant to further develop the solution.

CanMicro combines microwave-assisted comminution and multi-sensor ore sorting technology to selectively break particles and sort waste from desired minerals, reducing crushing and grinding requirements. CMIC says the CanMicro technology can provide over 35% energy savings across several commodities.

The Crush It! Challenge was announced in October 2018 by Natural Resources Canada (NRC) with the aim to realise an innovative breakthrough in the mining industry’s most energy-intensive and inefficient processes: crushing and grinding.

The primary objectives of the challenge are to fight climate change by creating innovative technologies that reduce energy consumption and pollution, increase competitiveness by developing world-leading clean technologies, and transform the mining cycle to establish a new “future in mining”.

Semi-finalists (up to 12) received C$10,000 to help them pitch their ideas to the Challenge Jury, with up to six finalists being granted up to C$860,000 to build and test their clean technologies. The winner and innovator demonstrating the most superior energy breakthrough to crush and grind rocks was awarded a C$5 million prize to fully develop and roll out their solution.

The grand prize winner of the Crush it! Challenge was selected through a competitive and rigorous process designed and delivered by NRC.

Crush It! is one of six initial clean technology challenges led by NRC under the Impact Canada Initiative – a government-wide approach to introduce innovative approaches to help solve Canada’s biggest economic, environmental and social challenges. NRCan invested C$75 million in its cleantech challenges: Crush It! Challenge, Charging the Future Challenge, Indigenous Off-diesel Initiative, Power Forward Challenge, Women in Cleantech Challenge and The Sky’s the Limit Challenge.

CanMicro is the only technology to combine microwave-assisted comminution and sorting, according to CMIC. The treatment selectively heats value minerals, resulting in micro-fractures along grain boundaries that help reduce ore competency and increase mineral liberation after grinding. It also generates a thermal signature that can be used to sort ore particles so that only those containing value minerals are subjected to fine grinding.

Aside from the potential energy savings, which the team – made up of CMIC (Project Administrator), Dr Erin Bobicki (Technical Lead), Sepro Mineral Systems (Project Participants), Glencore Canada (Project Participants), COREM (Project Participants) and Queens University (Subject Matter Experts) – believe could be up to 70%, this has significant environmental implications for tailings.

CMIC looks to commercialise technologies within ReThinkMining subsidiary

The Canada Mining Innovation Council (CMIC) has announced the launch of ReThinkMining Ventures Inc (RMV), a for-profit subsidiary of CMIC.

Established to commercialise the technology in which CMIC is directly vested, ReThinkMining Ventures will help accelerate the development and deployment of new technology that will address critical needs of the mining industry, CMIC said.

CMIC’s goal is to reduce the mining industry’s energy use, water use and environmental footprint by 50%, by 2027. It has been working with major global players in the move toward zero waste mining, striving to develop technologies and innovations that will reduce waste, lower costs and mitigate environmental impacts across all aspects of mining.

The CMIC approach to these and other challenges is to start by developing technology roadmaps that align the industry on common challenges, and also help create a paradigm shift in terms of what is possible. At the tactical level, CMIC creates teams, or consortia, of mining companies and suppliers to co-develop new technology, and also co-develop the implementation of new technology.

Mark Thorpe, CEO of EnviroGold Global and Chair of CMIC’s Board of Directors, said: “This is a major, positive advance for the CMIC. As the Chair of the Board of Directors, I congratulate the entire team on achieving this milestone. We are ready to complete the work to start the commercialisation of the exciting projects that are in the CMIC project pipeline, which has been our long-term goal.”

Nancy Guay, Vice President Technical Services & Innovation, Agnico Eagle, and a board member of ReThinkMining Ventures Inc and CMIC, said: “This announcement marks an exciting new chapter of CMIC and will create true value for all our partners. We will work with the new team and partners to realise the full potential of those projects to drive the future growth of new technologies. Thanks, everyone, for the hard work and commitments.”

Carl Weatherell, CMIC Executive Director and CEO, added: “The creation of ReThinkMining Ventures is part of the natural evolution of CMIC and fills a serious void in the mining innovation ecosystem.”

Olitek on a mechanisation mission to provide mine safety step change

IM’s Teams call with Olitek Mining Robotics’ (OMR) James Oliver and Newcrest’s Tony Sprague starts like many other meetings, with a safety share.

Centred on the experiences of a drill and blast expert, Barry Crowdey, owner of Blastcon Australia Pty Ltd, this ‘share’ goes some way to highlighting mining’s hidden safety problem.

“So often we hear about safety shares that are almost instantaneous: rock failures, rock bursts, collapses, vehicle incidents, energy releases, ground collapses, or somebody getting pinned against something,” Oliver, OMR’s Managing Director, told IM. “You have this instantaneous safety hazard you are always trying to protect against.

“The ones that don’t get reported – and are possibly creating a big stigma in the mining industry – is the ongoing wear and tear on the human body.”

Crowdey, a blasting consultant, offers direct experience here.

As a charge-up operator, he was recently side-lined for six months after major shoulder surgery. A whole host of repetitive tasks – such as push and pull activities during blasthole preparation and charge-up – conducted over the last two decades had proven too much for his body.

“A charge-up operator is a highly sought-after job,” Oliver said. “The perception is: you have to be tough to do it well. Barry never complained about this – which probably speaks to awareness around men’s mental health to a degree – and would often use his time off to recover from body soreness likely caused by these repetitive tasks.”

The injuries that don’t get reported – and are possibly creating a big stigma in the mining industry – are the ongoing wear and tear on the human body, James Oliver says

He added: “After stories like this, it is no wonder the mining industry has a stigma for wearing people out and, essentially, taking away more than it is providing – personally and from an environmental perspective.”

Sprague, Group Manager, Directional Studies and Innovation at Newcrest, has experienced some of the strains placed on the human body by carrying out similar manual tasks on mine sites, reflecting on a three-month stint on a blast crew in Kalgoorlie at the height of summer.

He, Newcrest and the wider mining industry are responding to these issues.

For the past three-or-so-years, Newcrest has been collaborating closely with OMR to develop a range of smart, safe and robust robotic systems enabling open-pit mechanised charge-up, blasthole measurement and geological blasthole sampling, as well as underground remote charge-up for tunnel development.

This suite of solutions is tackling a major industry problem that most mining OEMs focused on automating load and haul, or drilling operations, are not looking at.

OMR is addressing this market gap.

“Apart from a small number of mines and in specific applications, the mining industry is generally not ready for automation,” Oliver said. “Effective mechanisation of the hazardous mining tasks is what is needed first. This is where design thinking is crucial – process review, deletion, modification and optimisation to enable robotic mechanisation.”

Sprague added: “Most processes in mining have been designed for fingers and have taken hundreds of years to be optimised around them. We now need to mechanise these processes before we can start thinking about automating.”

The metric for momentum

The injuries that OMR and many others are looking to alleviate with mechanisation of these manual processes are not generally captured by lost time injuries or other similar safety metrics.

Most processes in mining have been designed for fingers and have taken hundreds of years to be optimised around them, Tony Sprague says

This has historically made it hard to invest in such technology – the numbers don’t typically show up in the WH&S reporting.

Yet, the risk of not confronting this issue is starting to have more sway over operational decision making at the same time as technology is reaching a suitably mature level.

“The image of Barry at home recovering from surgery to address career-induced injuries is not the image the mining industry wants to portray any longer,” Oliver said.

And with mining companies competing with other industries for skilled talent, they can no longer afford to put such stress on their people.

The idea, as OMR says, is to maintain process performance with well executed mechanised equipment. “Strain the machinery, not the people” is one of the company’s mottos.

And it will only take a few more frontrunners adopting such technology to affect real change across the industry, according to Oliver.

“Socially, people will speak,” he said. “If the mine down the road has someone in the comfort of an air-conditioned cabin carrying out remote charge-up operations, that news will soon spread. Operators will no longer tolerate being exposed to rock bursts, injuries and the like, and will leave positions where they are put in such a situation.”

It is such momentum that has, arguably, led to the industry backing innovators like OMR.

One of the company’s products, the Remote Charge-up Unit (RCU), is now the subject of a major collaborative project managed by the Canada Mining Innovation Council (CMIC).

Seeking to alleviate the issues associated with loading and priming explosives at the development face, the RCU’s core enabling technology is OMR’s innovative “Trigger Assembly” (pictured below), which enables lower cost conventional detonators to be mechanically installed safely and efficiently. This system is fitted to a modified Volvo wheeled excavator, with its hydraulic robotic boom, and is the key to moving people away from harm’s way in the underground mining setting.

The project is being delivered in a series of development phases through to Technology Readiness Level 7. This functioning prototype machine will enable personnel to move at least 4-5 m away from the underground development face and carry out efficient and effective face charge-up.

This project is moving into the procurement and build phase of the first prototype, according to Oliver.

Newcrest is also one of the major miners steering developments of the RCU, alongside Agnico Eagle, Glencore and Vale within the CMIC collaboration.

While Sprague says his company has injected early seed funding to get some of the OMR work moving, he thinks industry collaboration is key to bringing the products to market.

“What got me into wanting to do these sorts of projects is the belief that the mining industry can be so much better than it currently is,” Sprague said. “We can change this faster by finding smart, agile companies like Olitek and support them with groups of like-minded mining companies to accelerate projects. We are showing that when the industry works together, we can make solutions to our problems appear.

He added: “I’m a true believer that momentum breeds momentum. In these types of projects, I use my finite seed funds and stretch them as far as possible. I might not know how to get to the end of a project in terms of funding it, but if I can get it to a point where we have some TRL3 designs and lab testing to prove the concept, you can go out to the market and find ways to progress up through the technology readiness levels.

“It is about chipping away and progressing up through the TRLs as opposed to asking the industry to blindly invest in R&D.”

Moving up a level

And this is where most of OMR’s technology suite is at: TR5 to TRL6 level.

Oliver explained: “If we look at the RCU unit at the moment, we have a robotic excavator platform that was developed on a sister project. This modular approach we are taking has allowed us to go into new applications seamlessly because of the base technology building blocks we have created.”

Alongside the RCU, the company is working on an “Anako” suite of products, namely: Anako Sense, Anako Sample and Anako Prime.

Anako Sense is a borehole probe sensing machine allowing operators to remotely measure the depth, temperature and presence of water within blastholes. It has been designed to mechanise this quality monitoring process in the open pit, removing operators from danger and putting them in the safety of an air-conditioned cabin. The Mark 2 machine – which is now commercially available – provides faster than manual cycle times, while eliminating fatigue, repetitive strain injury and exposure risks, according to OMR. It also provides real-time data capture of borehole quality measurements.

Anako Sample provides a mechanised sampling process to collect blasthole data. It, again, removes personnel from harm’s way, while providing fast cycle times and repeatable sample quality. It also provides automated data recording. This technology is currently going through Factory Acceptance Testing, with plans to deploy to a customer site shortly.

Anako Prime – for mechanised open-pit charge-up – provides all the benefits of the other Anako products while being compatible with multiple types of explosives. It is leveraging the developments made in the underground environment with the RCU and has a Mark 1 machine completed. Progress is also being made on a Mark 2 version to achieve high productivity, fully mechanised priming and bulk emulsion placement, according to Oliver.

While more products could be added to the OMR portfolio in time, the company is focused on leveraging the proven Volvo wheeled and excavator platform that can scale up from 6 t to 60 t capacities and can move quickly around the mine.

Given the strong collaborative relationship OMR has fostered with Volvo over the years, there is also potential down the line for the Volvo network to support these machines across the globe, providing the machine uptime safety net that many remote mine operators would like if they were to take up the OMR technology option.

The inspiration

Crowdey’s role in this story does not end with the safety share. He is also now training operators on this new equipment, providing a real-life example of the reason to adopt such mechanisation as well as how easy that adoption process is.

Sprague said: “You might think you need to be an expert excavator operator to work these technologies, yet the smart controls, vision and positioning systems for hole location, for instance, means the machines do the hard work for you.”

Oliver added to this: “We say a trainable operator can be sat in that machine and, after a matter of days, be as efficient as a manual operator.”

There is an impending deadline for mine operators to confront these issues, with mechanisation of the most dangerous processes the first port of call, according to Oliver.

“The only way to stop this mining impact is about enabling machinery to do the work and going through a mechanisation process to ensure the Barrys of this world don’t have to conduct these manual processes,” he said. “A good example of that over the last decade is the installation of hose feeders on emulsion pumping units in blasthole charging. That represents a ‘step’ in the right direction, but what we need now is ‘step change’.

“Eventually there will be places in a mine that people simply cannot go, so we better start perfecting mechanisation now as automation will be needed one day. It might be 10 years from now, but, if we’re not mechanised by that point, we will simply not be able to mine these more challenging ore deposits.”

BHP Ventures backs BluVein’s next gen trolley-charging project

BHP has become the latest company to back BluVein’s “next generation trolley-charging technology” project, with its Ventures arm joining Northern Star Resources, Newcrest Mining, Vale, Glencore, Agnico Eagle, AngloGold Ashanti and OZ Minerals as project partners.

A BHP spokesperson said the collaboration was “part of our multi-faceted approach to reducing vehicle emissions at our operations”.

It is one of several decarbonisation collaborations BHP Ventures is involved with in pursuit of BHP’s decarbonisation goals. Others include partnering on supply chain traceability through Circulor and low emissions steelmaking through Boston Metals.

Back in August, BluVein announced that seven major mining companies had financially backed BluVein, with the industry collaboration project now moving forward with final system development and construction of a technology demonstration pilot site in Brisbane, Australia. This came on top of agreements with four major mining vehicle manufacturers to support BluVein controls and hardware integration into their vehicles.

BluVein, a joint venture between EVIAS and Australia-based Olitek, is developing technology that removes the need to employ battery swapping or acquire larger, heavier batteries customised to cope with the current requirements placed on the heaviest diesel-powered machinery operating in the mining sector.

It is doing this through adapting charging technology originally developed by Sweden-based EVIAS for electrified public highways. The application of this technology in mining could see operations employ smaller, lighter battery-electric vehicles that are connected to the mine site grid via its ingress protection-rated slotted Rail™ system. This system effectively eliminates all exposed high voltage conductors, providing significantly improved safety and ensures compliance with mine electrical regulations, according to BluVein. This is complemented with its Hammer™ technology and a sophisticated power distribution unit to effectively power electric motors and charge a vehicle’s on-board batteries.

BluVein has been specifically designed for harsh mining environments and is completely agnostic to vehicle manufacturer, according to the company. This standardisation is crucial, BluVein says, as it allows a mixed fleet of mining vehicles to use the same rail infrastructure.

BluVein says it plans on starting the trial install early works towards the end of this year for a mid- to late-2022 trial period in a simulated underground environment.

The BluVein project is being managed by the Canada Mining Innovation Council (CMIC).

Komatsu and Vale’s DynaCut Garson collaboration to be highlighted at MINExpo

Komatsu and Vale are set to reveal more about their underground hard-rock mechanised cutting technology collaboration at the upcoming MINExpo 2021 event next month.

The companies, through the Canada Mining Innovation Council, have been engaged on a project to advance the future of underground hard rock excavation through optimising use of Komatsu’s DynaCut mechanical cutting technology.

The technology was previously tested at the Cadia underground mine in New South Wales, Australia, operated by Newcrest Mining, which IM revealed last year as part of an exclusive interview with Vale’s Luke Mahony, Head of Geology, Mine Engineering, Geotechnical and Technology & Innovation for the Global Base Metals Business; and Andy Charsley, Project Lead and Principal Mining Engineer, Technology & Innovation.

Vale and Komatsu will start trialling DynaCut’s capabilities on Komatsu’s new MC51 machine at Vale’s Garson Mine in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, shortly, working together to increase the pace at which the innovative technology will be available to the larger market.

The machine is set up at Garson and expected to start cutting in the next month, IM understands.

“True innovation requires effective collaboration between the end user and suppliers to ensure the technology meets the needs of the industry,” Dino Otranto, Chief Operating Officer of North Atlantic Operations and Asian Refineries for Vale, said. “This partnership is that first step to really prove and understand the technology, while meeting our high standards for safety.”

Through more than 10 years of research and development, Komatsu says it has determined how to break rock continuously and precisely through a fully-electric system that outputs zero emissions. By automating and controlling processes so the machine can be operated remotely via line of site, Komatsu customers can move their operators further from the cutting face and from harm’s way leveraging DynaCut technology and the MC51 machine, it said.

Rudie Boshoff, Director of Hard Rock Cutting Systems at Komatsu, said: “We’re excited to be trialling this new machine and technology because it offers the potential to really change the way our customers mine. Not only does the DynaCut technology provide a very controllable way of cutting rock – within 50 mm accuracy to plan – the machine itself, the MC51, is designed to advance more sustainable mining methods by reducing the amount of equipment required to get to the orebody.”

Komatsu and Vale will be co-presenting about their partnership to drive innovation on September 13, 2021, on stage at the Komatsu booth in Las Vegas.

Just this week, Hillgrove Resources said it was set to trial the DynaCut technology on an MC51 machine to develop a portal and underground decline at the Kanmantoo mine in South Australia following a A$2 million grant from the South Australia Government.

Vale, Glencore, Newcrest and others join BluVein’s next gen trolley charging project

Seven major mining companies have financially backed BluVein and its “next generation trolley-charging technology” for heavy mining vehicles, with the industry collaboration project now moving forward with final system development and construction of a technology demonstration pilot site in Brisbane, Australia.

BluVein can now refer to Northern Star Resources, Newcrest Mining, Vale, Glencore, Agnico Eagle, AngloGold Ashanti and OZ Minerals as project partners.

Some additional mining companies still in the process of joining the BluVein project will be announced as they officially come on board, BluVein said, while four major mining vehicle manufacturers have signed agreements to support BluVein controls and hardware integration into their vehicles.

BluVein, a joint venture between EVIAS and Australia-based Olitek, is intent on laying the groundwork for multiple OEMs and mining companies to play in the mine electrification space without the need to employ battery swapping or acquire larger, heavier batteries customised to cope with the current requirements placed on the heaviest diesel-powered machinery operating in the mining sector.

It is doing this through adapting charging technology originally developed by Sweden-based EVIAS for electrified public highways. The application of this technology in mining could see operations employ smaller, lighter battery-electric vehicles that are connected to the mine site grid via its ingress protection-rated slotted Rail™ system. This system effectively eliminates all exposed high voltage conductors, providing significantly improved safety and ensures compliance with mine electrical regulations, according to BluVein. This is complemented with its Hammer™ technology and a sophisticated power distribution unit to effectively power electric motors and charge a vehicle’s on-board batteries.

BluVein has been specifically designed for harsh mining environments and is completely agnostic to vehicle manufacturer. This standardisation is crucial, BluVein says, as it allows a mixed fleet of mining vehicle to use the same rail infrastructure.

While underground mining looks like the most immediate application, BluVein says the technology also has applications in open-pit mining and quarrying.

It is this technology to be trialled in a demonstration pilot in a simulated underground environment. BluVein says it plans on starting the trial install early works towards the end of this year for a mid- to late-2022 trial period.

The BluVein project will be managed by the Canada Mining Innovation Council (CMIC).

CMIC-backed novel comminution technology hits commissioning milestone

The Canada Mining Innovation Council’s (CMIC) Conjugate Anvil Hammer Mill (CAHM) and MonoRoll platform technology project has reached a new milestone with hot commissioning of the MonoRoll at COREM’s testing facility in Quebec, Canada.

CAHM is a platform technology advancing two technologies in parallel where both designs break particles in a highly efficient thin particle bed. CAHM, according to CMIC, provides a more efficient alternative to high pressure grinding rolls and SAG mills, while the MonoRoll variant is designed for finer grinds and to replace inefficient rod and ball mills.

In a recent post, CMIC said hot commissioning of the MonoRoll at COREM’s testing facility, using some of the 300 t of ore contributed by Agnico Eagle Mines, was now complete. Although the MonoRoll is being tested using hard rock, there is also significant interest from the iron ore, cement and aggregate industries, CMIC says.

It added: “Fabrication of the CAHM machine is underway and if the optimised discrete element method modelling results hold, we are confident that the MonoRoll and the CAHM are on track to achieve the following significant benefits in ore grinding:

  • “Reduce energy consumption by an estimated 50% compared to best available technology;
  • “Eliminate grinding media;
  • “Increase ore feed reduction ratio; and
  • “Simplify the comminution circuits.”

CMIC is leading a consortium including experts in comminution, product development, engineering and testing as well as six major hard-rock mining companies guiding the effort and participating as potential first adopters. Included among the consortium is CTTI, Hatch, Glencore Canada – XPS (Expert Process Solutions), COREM, Teck, Agnico Eagle, Newmont and Kinross.

The MonoRoll technology is one of only six finalists in Impact Canada’s Crush It! Challenge. Launched in October 2018, Crush It! challenged Canadian innovators to deliver game-changing solutions for cleaner, more efficient rock processing.

CMIC said: “The MonoRoll project is the only finalist developing a novel grinding mill, and if the project wins the C$5 million ($3.9 million) Grand Prize, the funds would be used to engineer a large-scale machine to test in active mining operations.”

Vale teams with Komatsu and CMIC on ‘revolutionary’ hard-rock cutting project

Vale, in 2021, is due to embark on a major hard-rock cutting project at its Garson mine, in Sudbury, Canada.

Part of the mechanical cutting demonstration within the CMIC (Canada Mining Innovation Council) Continuous Underground Mining project, it will see the company test out a Komatsu hard-rock cutting machine equipped with Komatsu DynaCut Technology at the mine.

With an aim to access the McConnell orebody, as well as provide a primary case study for CMIC members to learn from, all eyes will be on this Sudbury mine in the June quarter of 2021.

Vale plans to demonstrate the ability to cut rock in excess of 250 MPa; cut at a commercial rate of more than 3.5 m/shift; quantify the cost per metre of operation and start to look at the potential comparison with conventional drill and blast development; assess the health, safety and environmental suitability of the mechanical rock excavation (MRE) process; and gain insight into the potential of an optimised MRE process.

Another Komatsu unit has already been assembled and (by now) is most likely operating at the Cadia underground mine in New South Wales, Australia, operated by Newcrest Mining. Vale will be watching developments here, where a three-month “pre-trial” cutting hard rock will take place.

Vale has laid out a testing plan for its own machine, with the unit set to cut around 400 m for the trial period.

IM had to find out more about this.

Fortunately Vale’s Luke Mahony, Head of Geology, Mine Engineering, Geotechnical and Technology & Innovation for the Global Base Metals Business; and Andy Charsley, Project Lead and Principal Mining Engineer, Technology & Innovation, were happy to talk.

IM: Why do you think industry collaboration is key in the underground hard-rock cutting space, in particular? Why has it been harder to develop and apply this technology in mining compared with other solutions such as automation, electrification and digitalisation?

LM: There are many various OEMs entering the market with hard-rock cutting equipment. All of them approach the problem a little bit differently, so it is difficult for one company to trial all of the options. At the same time, we are trying to leverage these new technologies and processes across the industry for a mechanical cutting type of future. For me, this is essential if we are to get the safety, cost and productivity benefits we need to make some of these new underground mines viable.

Comparing it to automation and electrification shows it is a ‘revolutionary’ concept as opposed to an ‘evolutionary’ one. Automation and electrification are more evolutionary concepts – automating an existing scoop or truck or electrifying it – whereas hard-rock cutting is more revolutionary and transformational in the sector, so industry collaboration is even more important.

IM: Since the project was presented at CMIC’s ReThinkMining Webinar, in June, have you had a lot more partnership interest in the project?

LM: We have seen a few other industry members ask questions and connect regarding this project. Some mining companies, while interested, are a little unsure of how they can get on-board with a project like this. What we have done is to utilise the CMIC consortium to make it the foundation of this collaboration, ensuring it is as easy and efficient as possible to join. Also, we want to cover the key concerns that mining companies have when it comes to collaboration, which CMIC is well aware of and can address.

CMIC is well connected with underground professionals and like-minded companies, and is able to pull in interest and facilitate the collaboration framework.

IM: What has happened to the MRE project timeline since June? Are you still on for receiving the machine in early 2021 to start testing later in the year?

AC: The machine has been assembled and we will mobilise it to Canada in early 2021. All of the underground cutting, in Canada, is scheduled to start in April 2021.

Komatsu have assembled two units – the first unit has come off the assembly line and is about to start trials at Cadia any day now. The second machine has just completed final assembly and will undergo Factory Acceptance Testing in the next few months, while we monitor the initial performance of the first machine. The second machine will come to Canada early next year and, if there are any modifications required, we can carry them out, prior to it going underground.

IM: How has the machine changed from the prototype that was initially deployed at Cadia and shown at MINExpo 2016?

AC: In 2016 and 2018, Komatsu implemented a proof of concept and, after that proof of concept, there was interest from miners to build a full commercial unit – which has happened now.

The prototype was ultimately to test the enabling cutting technology, whereby this element was retrofitted to a medium-sized roadheader for manoeuvrability. What Komatsu has done now is fully embed it into a system more like a continuous miner, which has the cutting arm, ground handling shovel & collector and the rest of the body to put it into a full production, continuous operation. It is now going to be part of the production process, as opposed to just testing the cutting aspect.

IM: Considering the end goal of this project is to evaluate the type and number of applications for which hard-rock cutting is suitable across industry (not just at Garson and the McConnell orebody), why did you select the Komatsu HRCM?

LM: It’s really about the Komatsu DynaCut Technology, which, for us, is an extremely low energy process for cutting the hard rock compared with, say, a TBM.

At the same time, what attracts us is the ability to integrate it with existing infrastructure within our current process at the mine – bolters, trucks, LHDs, etc. It is not about fully redesigning the mine to implement this technology.

This trial is that first step to really prove and understand the Komatsu DynaCut Technology in terms of dealing with cutting our relative hard rock in Sudbury. In that regard, the Komatsu technology provided the best technical opportunities for the conditions at hand.

IM: When the machine gets going in Australia, what hardness of rock will it be cutting in the hard-rock stage? How does this compare with Garson?

LM: Cadia is a rock ranging around 200 MPa, whereas in Sudbury we would be looking around 250 MPa. That’s when you talk about Uniaxial Compressive Strength (UCS) of the rock.

When you start looking at this undercutting technology, there are a few other aspects you need to consider. This includes rock toughness – the ability to resist a crack when a tensile force is applied, sort of like a jackhammer – and brittleness – how much energy that rock can absorb before it breaks.

Ultimately, we are working with Komatsu to understand how we should adapt an undercutting technology for our mines, and what the key parameters to consider are. At this stage, UCS seems to be the benchmark in the industry, but I think there will be a lot more considerations to come out of this project.

IM: What are the reasons for applying the technology at Garson? Were other areas in Sudbury considered?

AC: The priority for us was to have a shallow, low stress ground environment to start off with. At the same time, these are significant machines that would have to be disassembled if you were going down a shaft, which would be complicated. We have ramp access at Garson which makes things easier.

The other point is that Garson is an operating mine so we have got the facilities that can support the project; everything from removing the rock to ground support, service installation and surface infrastructure.

IM: How widespread do you think hard-rock cutting could be across the underground industry? Could it eventually become a mainstream method to compete with drill and blast?

LM: This is the ultimate question. I would like to say yes, it will become mainstream. It is our intention to really develop and prove that it can not only compete with drill and blast, but ultimately improve on it. This will see, in the future, an application for both mechanised hard-rock cutting and drill and blast.

You are going to need to look at fundamental KPIs such as safety, productivity and the cost associated with that productivity.

The focus now is to mature the cutting technology and start to develop the production or the process that goes with underground development beyond just cutting rock.

When developing around sensitive areas where you require low disturbance, hard-rock cutting will be important, as it will be in highly seismic ground. Then, if the unit cost of operating these machines gets low enough, you can start to assess orebodies that were previously not viable. At the same time, it is an electrified process so enables the industry to accelerate some of the decarbonisation plans for underground mining.

IM: Anything else to add on the subject?

LM: I think it’s fair to say, there will be no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution when it comes to hard-rock cutting. Different OEMs are going to develop and mature solutions and there will be applications for each of them, but we have got a long way to go to really understand that as an industry.

The ultimate goal is to get that industry collaboration between OEMs and industry going to ensure solutions are developed that show a way forward for the sector.

This Q&A will feature in the annual continuous cutting and rapid development focus, soon to be published in the IM November-December 2020 issue. Photo courtesy of Komatsu Mining