New real-time underground 3D mapping technology developed by CSIRO can be used to locate, steer and navigate equipment and vehicles in volatile, methane-rich underground environments, according to Australia’s national science agency.
ExScan technology, being trialled by Glencore, as well as five other mining companies, has a laser scanner and associated software capable of generating real time 3D maps of tunnels, walls and cavities underground where global positioning system (GPS) cannot penetrate. These maps can be used for locating, steering and navigating equipment and vehicles.
Arguably, the real innovation in CSIRO’s new underground mapping technology is not the smart laser-based scanner, but the container in which it sits, CSIRO said.
“The enclosure has been certified to International Electrotechnical Commission ‘Ex d’ standards for use in volatile, methane-rich underground environments such as coal mines,” the agency said.
“That means it has been designed to prevent the electronic equipment it houses sparking an explosion.”
CSIRO Electronic Engineer and ExScan Project Lead, Peter Reid, said: “Nothing can go underground in a coal mine unless it’s certified to be in that environment. You can’t even take an aluminium can; it’s a potential spark hazard if it gets crushed by a vehicle. So getting electronics down there is a tricky process.”
The problem is that explosive gases such as methane penetrate equipment and any failure of electronics that causes a spark could lead to a fiery disaster.
The solution outlined in the Ex d regulation is not to contain explosions, but to prevent them from happening in the first place. That’s achieved by designing the container to ensure any spark would have to travel such a long way to encounter sufficient gas to trigger an explosion and, by that time, it will have cooled below the ignition point, CSIRO said.
Looking to longwalls
Many members of CSIRO’s ExScan development team spent years working with industry on the Australian Coal Association Research Program-funded project that developed the successful LASC longwall automation system.
A major driver behind automating coal mining is to remove people from the dusty, hazardous environment near the coal face, but even the LASC automated equipment occasionally needed hands on human measurement to guide it through trickier parts of the coal seams.
The idea behind ExScan was to provide images that could be used to make those measurements automatically, CSIRO said.
“This technology provides us with information that cameras on their own can’t,” Reid said. “It allows us to measure in 3D anything we see, as if we were there.”
The LASC ExScan is a 3D scanner, housed in an explosion-proof casing, that can map tunnels, voids and cavities in real-time underground.
What emerged looks a little like a 25 cm-high version of Star Wars character R2-D2 – with a steel base into which a polycarbonate dome screws, CSIRO said. The laser sits under the transparent dome and scans through it. To get outside into a volume of gas, any spark generated would have to work its way through a narrow sawtooth path formed by the screw thread and, in doing so, would lose most of its energy.
Should the scanner malfunction or the container become scratched or damaged, it can be swapped over in a matter of minutes, because the dome just screws off, CSIRO explained.
The team invested a lot of time in computer modelling to come up with a dome that was just right for injection moulding. That makes the ExScan devices relatively inexpensive to manufacture, according to CSIRO.
“In fact, they are affordable enough for a line of 40 or 50 to sit behind the mining equipment along a longwall face of between 400 and 500 m in length, providing real time updates of the condition of the wall,” it said. “At 10 metres apart, the devices are close enough to allow redundancy – their scans overlap, which means that if one fails, its absence can be covered by others on either side to ensure overall reliability.”
Removing people from the coal face
According to Glencore Technology Superintendent at Oaky North mine, in central Queensland, Lauris Hemmings, the images they generate can be used to determine and sort out coal flow blockages on the conveyor system under the shearing equipment and to help align and steer the shearers themselves.
“It’s a fantastic tool,” Hemmings said, “an ever-evolving piece of equipment that takes risk management to even higher levels.”
The mine is already hoping ExScan can be used to navigate the higher risk areas of the mine, taking employees away from the coal face.
But the applications are broader. The scanners can be mounted in any orientation – even upside down – and on moving machinery and vehicles. This means they can be used to map whole mines, and potentially for vehicle navigation, CSIRO said.
The containers themselves can be employed for other electronic purposes, such as housing camera systems, and are already being marketed separately by Eaton Industries.
In addition to Glencore, the LASC ExScan system is being trialled by five other Australian mining companies, as well as by companies overseas.
“The Chinese coal industry has become so interested that it has invested the resources for a couple of engineers to develop skills to deal with the large amount of data generated by the scanners,” CSIRO said. “The feedback from all this activity is allowing the CSIRO team to develop new features for the scanner.”
CSIRO is now determining next steps to commercialise the ExScan system.
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.”
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’.
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 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.
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.”
MAXAM is to supply its high-energy bulk explosive, RIOFLEX, alongside other solutions, to the Glencore-operated Lomas Bayas mine, in Chile, as part of a blasting services contract.
The Lomas Bayas open-pit copper mine is in northern Chile and produces copper cathode on site. In the first half of 2019, Lomas Bayas produced 40,000 t of copper metal, up from 33,800 t a year earlier, Glencore said.
MAXAM said: “With this contract, MAXAM continues to expand its operations and global presence, and currently has more than 80 industrial facilities, subsidiaries in more than 50 countries on five continents and 6,500 employees worldwide.
“In fact, MAXAM is the second largest operator of blasting solutions for mining, quarries and infrastructure in terms of international presence.”
RIOFLEX is a highly energetic, robust and flexible density bulk product that, MAXAM says, achieves excellent performance in all types of rock. It has been tested in more than 140 sites in 25 countries.
Diego Rodríguez, Regional Director of MAXAM in Latin America, said: “We are delighted to collaborate with Minera Lomas Bayas and offer our innovative solutions in the operation. At every operation, our clients always highlight our closeness and experience, contributing to improve their efficiency and productivity, something that we will undoubtedly also deliver in Lomas Bayas.”
Last week, close to 300 leaders from the mining, construction and quarrying industries from Australia, Japan and Indonesia met in Brisbane, Australia, for a two-day summit, hosted by Sandvik, to showcase best practice examples of digitalisation.
The Digitalization in Mining event, on December 3-4, allowed Sandvik to demonstrate its latest digital offering and introduce participants to the latest innovations across its product portfolio, including process optimisation with OptiMine®, information management through My Sandvik digital services and autonomous operation with AutoMine ̶ together with the latest equipment in underground and surface drilling, loading and hauling, crushing and screening and the rock tools management system.
Jim Tolley, Vice President, Sales Area Australia Pacific, Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology, said digitalisation is helping companies to grow and optimise their operations. “Our partners were keen to join us at this event because they know that digitalisation has a critical part to play in making their mines sustainable for the future.”
Day one of the event featured speakers from mining companies across Australia, as well as leaders in mining technology, process optimisation and automation. They explained the benefits their organisations have gained by implementing automation and process optimisation solutions, as well as the accompanying change in mindset, according to Sandvik.
The following presentations set the program for the day, followed by a panel discussion:
Shaping the Industry Digital Ecosystem (Sandvik);
Holistic Perspective, Focusing on Productivity, Safety and Optimised Machine Performance (Byrnecut);
Developing the Mine of Tomorrow (Barminco Ltd);
Machine Learning ̶ Keeping it Real with Case Studies from across the Mine Value Chain (PETRA Data Science);
Capturing Opportunities for Digital and other Product Technology Solutions (Rio Tinto);
Automation Technology to Improve Efficiency and Consistency in Longwall Development Operations (Glencore);
Direction of Technology and Automation (Newcrest); and
Data Privacy, Rights and Control (Sandvik).
Pat Boniwell, Managing Director, Byrnecut Australia, said the industry will improve productivity, safety and optimise machine performance through a more “fundamental understanding” of the individual processes that make up our operations.
“New technology, automation, data transfer and analysis will all assist us in increasing the utilisation of our resources,” he said. “Data is essential, but if it is not being looked at then we are just gathering data for the sake of it. We need to continue to increase the levels of engagement between all stakeholders.”
He concluded: “We are doomed to failure unless we take our people with us and are prepared to question and be challenged.”
PETRA CEO, Penny Stewart, meanwhile, homed in on machine learning, which, she said, powers “digital twin prediction, simulation and optimisation to increase mine productivity, efficiency and yield, by showing engineers and supervisors how to reproduce their ‘best performance’ 24 hours a day, seven days a week”.
She added: “PETRA’s MAXTA™ Suite digital twin applications provide platform agnostic software-as-service operational decision support across the mine value chain ̶ from resource engineering through to processing plant set point optimisation.”
Day two of the event began with a presentation on sustainability by Henrik Ager (pictured), President, Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology, explaining how critical it is for long-term performance.
“Driving productivity and greenhouse gas efficiency together is going to be key for us at Sandvik, improving productivity and greenhouse gas efficiency will be the best way for us to add value for our customers,” he said. “My view is that the more we link our sustainability targets to normal business targets and find ways to combine them to achieve a common good, the better chance we have to deliver on them.”
Also, during the second day, delegates had the opportunity of a virtual visit to several Sandvik customers, including: Northparkes Mine (Australia), Resolute Mining Syama mine (West Africa), RedBull Powder Company (New Zealand) and Aeris Resources Tritton mine (Australia).
Harry Hardy, General Manager Customer Accounts, Applications Engineering and Marketing, Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology, Sales Area APAC, said the company often gets asked for reference cases and data to illustrate the value and payback of digital solutions. “Over the two days of the conference, our customers were able to share their own experiences and quantitatively demonstrate how our solutions have helped increase their productivity, reduce their production costs and increase their safety.”
H-E Parts says it has been awarded a one-year supply agreement from Glencore that will see the company supply and overhaul new and service exchange radiators on mobile equipment fleets across 24 coal mines in Australia.
The contract with Glencore Coal Assets Australia has the provision for a further 12-month extension based on performance and includes all ancillary mining equipment, as well as prime production mining truck, excavator and drill rig fleets.
The contract will be managed by H-E Parts’ Mining Solutions Cooling Division branches and incorporates various styles of independent radiators and complete modular nose cones, including the radiator, fan and motor and charge air cooler as a complete assembly, according to the company.
H-E Parts says: “The complete range of COR Cooling™ products are designed to provide extended service intervals, improved performance and increased productivity, whilst reducing equipment downtime and associated life cycle costs.”
Ashley Hams, Mining Solutions Vice President, said: “Through historic and ongoing service delivery as well as continuous product engineering innovation, our COR Cooling product and service lines have advanced to be a market leader.”
Hams added: “The ability to supply application specific cooling systems to our mining and industrial customers working in some of the toughest conditions in the world has demonstrated the engineering and quality prowess that H-E Parts has become synonymous with.”
H-E Parts said it believes that the partnership of the proven COR Cooling product line, combined with in-house engineering and service support, will provide a flexible, cost-effective, long-term solution for Glencore.
Earlier this week, H-E Parts announced it had acquired Allgo Engineering (Allgo). Although occurring in late 2018, H-E Parts had deferred announcement to facilitate the completion of a new 100 t facility and the upgrading of equipment and machining capabilities that will allow Allgo to handle some of the largest mining, marine and oil & gas components required by the Western Australia market, it said.
Seven leading mining and metals companies have partnered with the World Economic Forum (WEF) to experiment, design and deploy blockchain solutions that will accelerate responsible sourcing and sustainability practices, the WEF reports.
The Mining and Metals Blockchain Initiative will pool resources and cost, increase speed-to-market and improve industry-wide trust that cannot be achieved by acting individually, according to the forum.
“It aims to be a neutral enabler for the industry, addressing the lack of standardisation and improving efficiency,” WEF said, adding that the intention was to send out a signal of inclusivity and collaboration across the industry.
Among the seven companies represented in this initiative are Antofagasta Minerals, Eurasian Resources Group, Glencore, Tata Steel Limited, De Beers and Anglo American.
The group will look to develop joint proof-of-concepts for an inclusive blockchain platform, which, over time, could help the industry collectively increase “transparency, efficiency or improve reporting of carbon emissions”, it said.
The WEF explained: “In many cases, blockchain projects to support responsible sourcing have been bilateral. The result has been a fractured system that leaves behind parts of the ecosystem and lacks interoperability.”
The new initiative is owned and driven by the industry, for the industry, according to the WEF, with members examining issues related to governance, developing case studies and establishing a working group. Key areas of collaboration and development could include carbon emissions tracking and supply chain transparency.
“They will work to use blockchain technology to increase trust between upstream and downstream partners, to address the lack of industry standardisation and to track provenance, chain of custody and production methods,” it said.
Jörgen Sandström, Head of the Mining and Metals Industry at the WEF, said material value chains are undergoing profound change and disruption. “The industry needs to respond to the increasing demands of minerals and materials while responding to increasing demands by consumers, shareholders and regulators for a higher degree of sustainability and traceability of the products.”
The WEF has offered its platform and expertise to help industry leaders better understand the impact and potential of blockchain technology, it said. “It will provide guidance on governance issues related to the delivery of a neutral industry platform and the expansion of members.”
The move was welcomed by industry partners, including Ivan Arriagada, CEO of Antofagasta Minerals: “We hope this collaboration and pilot will give us practical examples of how blockchain can increase efficiency of the supply chain management and improve interoperability; address certain supply chain management risks such as transparency and consumer trust; and unlock opportunities including integration of key data such on environmental impact such carbon emissions.”
Benedikt Sobotka, CEO of Eurasian Resources Group, meanwhile, said the collaboration around blockchain technology would help industry efforts to enhance responsible sourcing. “By working together, our goal is to develop solutions that can be adopted across the industry and value chain,” he added.
Ivan Glasenberg, CEO of Glencore, said the development of this technology can facilitate industry reporting to improve compliance across the supply chain.
TV Narendran, CEO of Tata Steel, said: “As a responsible player in the mining and metals industry, we are committed to build a sustainable future.”
Jim Duffy, CEO of Tracr (representing Anglo American/De Beers), said the company looked forward to collaborating with the consortium as Tracr begins to roll-out its connected supply chain platform for the diamond industry. “Lessons learned creating Tracr are highly relevant to the sustainable sourcing of all mining and metals,” he added.
MIDEL says it has helped improve safety at Glencore’s Mount Isa operations in north Queensland, Australia, following the introduction of its synthetic and biodegradable transformer fluid.
Operating since 1924, Mount Isa Mines is one of Australia’s largest industrial complexes extracting both copper and zinc-lead-silver, and contributing $1 billion to Queensland’s economy annually, according to MIDEL.
With over 3,000 workers operating in one of the world’s most expansive network of underground mines, as well as being Australia’s deepest underground copper mine at 1,900 m, safety at Mount Isa is paramount, MIDEL says. “With ore processed and smelted onsite too, the whole operation is power intensive and requires reliable, sustainable power infrastructure to maintain operations,” it added.
Glencore, as part of a risk mitigation program, identified mineral oil-filled transformers below ground at Mount Isa’s Enterprise mine as a potential fire risk, with the transformers flagged for further investigation.
Glencore invited MIDEL on-site to present options for reducing the risk posed by the transformers, and opted to retrofill the first transformer using MIDEL’s 7131 biodegradable, synthetic transformer fluid.
MIDEL 7131 has a high fire point (316˚C) and offers unrivalled fire safety benefits, according to the company, particularly for sites with enclosed spaces where smoke can be more deadly than the fire itself. “By retrofilling with a synthetic transformer fluid, the fire risk posed by the transformers was almost entirely eliminated,” MIDEL said.
Peter Ferguson, Electrical Superintendent at Glencore, said: “Despite MIDEL being more expensive than other transformer fluids, in the overall scheme of things, the difference was negligible particularly for such a vast improvement in safety.”
He added: “If we ever had to physically move the transformer this would be more costly and disruptive, so retrofilling with an oxygen-stable fluid gave us peace of mind.”
The benefits of switching to MIDEL’s synthetic ester include vastly reduced transformer fire risk, which means new units require no concrete blast walls, MIDEL said. This type of cost saving could extend into the millions of dollars, and transformers can be placed closer together, creating substantial substation space savings, too.
Additional operational benefits include improved moisture tolerance compared with that of mineral oil, which keeps the insulating paper in a better condition for longer and thus helps to extend transformer asset life. As MIDEL fluid is also fully oxygen stable, maintenance crews can handle it in exactly the same way as mineral oil, the company said.
Producers looking to improve their licence to operate can also leverage the environmental and sustainability benefits of synthetic ester, as it is fully biodegradable and non-toxic, MIDEL added.
First Cobalt Corp, following a finance agreement with Glencore, has started to award key contracts to complete a 55 t/d feasibility study on the proposed expansion of its cobalt refinery.
Field work is expected to commence in September and will culminate in the delivery of a definitive feasibility study (DFS) in the March quarter, the company said.
Ausenco Engineering Canada will lead the preparation of a DFS for a refinery restart at 55 t/d with SGS carrying out advanced metallurgical test work on cobalt hydroxide and a specialty cobalt feed to be supplied by Glencore, Knight Piésold conducting tailings studies in support of the DFS, Story Environmental taking on the environmental and permitting aspects of the engineering studies and Glencore providing technical support throughout the study phase through its Sudbury-based affiliate, XPS – Expert Process Solutions.
In addition to the delivery of the DFS on a 55 t/d refinery restart, a prefeasibility study (PFS) on a 12 t/d interim operating scenario will also be conducted.
Trent Mell, First Cobalt President & CEO, said: “The First Cobalt Refinery is a permitted facility that is in excellent condition and has a recent operating history. Our strategy is to work with Glencore to expand the refinery to serve the growing needs of the North American electric vehicle market. To that end, we have partnered with a first-rate study team appropriate for the importance of the task at hand.”
A plan to incorporate infrastructure from Glencore, Newmont Goldcorp and Yamana Gold’s jointly owned Alumbrera copper-gold operation, in Argentina, into the Agua Rica copper-gold project looks like paying off after a prefeasibility study (PFS) on the project highlighted an increase in annual output over the mine’s first 10 years and lower operating costs.
The three companies, in March, signed a definitive integration plan, which contemplated the development and operation of the Agua Rica project using the infrastructure and facilities of Minera Alumbrera, which saw open-pit mining conclude in 2018. This pact, they said, would realise important synergies, lowering initial capital required, and reducing the environmental footprint. As part of the deal, Agua Rica would be jointly owned by the three parties, with Yamana owning 56.25%, Glencore holding 25% and Newmont Goldcorp holding the remaining 18.75%.
Yamana said: “The integration plan generates significant synergies and lowers execution risk by bringing together the extensive mineral resource of Agua Rica with the existing infrastructure of Alumbrera to create a unique, high quality, and low risk brownfield project that the parties believe will bring significant value to shareholders and local communities and stakeholders.
“This unique and innovative project will serve to position Catamarca as a focal point for development in northwestern Argentina.”
Based on mineral reserves updated as at June 30, 2019, the PFS estimates a mine life of 28 years with average annual production over the first 10 years of around 533 MIb (241,765 t) of copper equivalent, including 107,000 oz of gold and contributions of molybdenum and silver. Average cash costs over this period were estimated at $1.29/Ib, with all-in sustaining costs coming in at $1.52/Ib.
Yamana said the initial capital cost estimate of $2.4 billion realises “significant synergies from using the infrastructure and facilities of Alumbrera”, with the project expected to generate an after-tax NPV (8% discount rate) of $1.935 billion based on a copper price of $3.00/Ib.
Opportunities to further improve the economics will be evaluated in a value-seeking study, scheduled for this year, and the full feasibility study, expected by 2020, Yamana said.
The PFS assumes a throughput rate of 110,000 t/d with scenarios considering a higher throughput rate to be evaluated in the value-seeking study and subsequent full feasibility study.
“Preliminary evaluations have indicated the potential for significant upside to the project economics from increases to throughput with existing mineral reserves to 115,000 t/d, which would improve NPV to over $145 million and require only a marginal increase to initial capital,” the company said.
The PFS for the integrated project considers the Agua Rica deposit to be mined via a conventional high tonnage truck and shovel open-pit operation. Average life of mine material moved is expected to be approximately 108 Mt/y, with ore feed of 40 Mt/y and average life of mine strip ratio of 1.66.
Ore extracted from the mine will be transported from the open pit by truck to the primary crusher area and then transported via a conventional conveyor to the existing Alumbrera processing plant. To route the overland conveyor system, approximately 5.2 km of tunnel development will be required. The conveyor extends 35 km to the Alumbrera process plant, where it will feed the existing stacker conveyor via a new transfer station.
Relatively modest modifications to the circuit are needed to process the Agua Rica ore in order to produce copper and by-products concentrate, according to Yamana, which will then be transported to the port for commercialisation. An in-situ blending strategy has been defined to manage the concentrate quality over certain years of the mine life, which will allow the project to achieve the desired targets, the company explained.
The high quality and well-preserved existing infrastructure of Alumbrera is fully used in the planned integration, Yamana said. Tailings storage facility, power supply, water supply, ancillary buildings, and logistical installations, among other infrastructure, are all included. “This significantly reduces the environmental footprint of the project,” Yamana said.
Given the level of progress achieved in the PFS, the parties have begun the process to prepare the Environmental Impact Assessment for the integrated project, as well as continuing engagement with local stakeholders and local communities, Yamana said.
First Cobalt Corp says it has agreed on a term sheet with Glencore that could see the First Cobalt Refinery in Ontario, Canada, recommissioned as early as next year.
The agreement outlines a non-dilutive, fully funded, phased approach to recommissioning the refinery remains subject to several conditions, First Cobalt said.
The First Cobalt Refinery is a hydrometallurgical cobalt refinery in the Canadian Cobalt Camp, a cluster that was historically mined for primarily silver, but is now being evaluated for cobalt. It is the only permitted primary cobalt refinery in North America, according to the company.
Phase 1 of this term sheet entails a $5 million loan from Glencore to support additional metallurgical testing, engineering, cost estimating, field work, and permitting associated with the recommissioning of the refinery. Within this amount is funding for a definitive feasibility study for a 55 t/d refinery expansion.
Phase 2 envisions commissioning the refinery at a feed rate of 12 t/d in 2020 to produce a battery-grade cobalt sulphate for prequalification for the electric vehicle supply chain, while Phase 3 involves an expansion of the refinery to a 55 t/d rate by 2021. This uses the current site infrastructure and buildings, and was detailed in a previous report by Ausenco, which estimated that First Cobalt could produce 5,000 t/y of contained cobalt in sulphate assuming cobalt hydroxide feed grading 30% cobalt.
The total capital investment under the three phases is estimated at around $45 million, with Phases 2 and 3 remaining subject to the findings of the studies undertaken during Phase 1, First Cobalt clarified.
Trent Mell, First Cobalt President & Chief Executive Officer, said: “Transitioning to cash flow as a North American refiner is our primary focus and today’s news demonstrates that we are moving closer to achieving that objective. Glencore has been supportive throughout the process and we look forward to working closely with their technical team on a successful execution.
“This partnership will help First Cobalt achieve its stated objective of providing ethically-sourced battery-grade cobalt for the North American electric vehicle market. An operating refinery in North America can benefit all North American cobalt projects, as it significantly reduces the capital cost of putting a new mine into production.”
The framework follows a memorandum of understanding signed by the companies back in May.
First Cobalt will also enter into a services agreement with XPS – Expert Process Solutions, a Sudbury-based metallurgical consulting, technology and testing facility affiliated with Glencore, in order to provide technical support to the First Cobalt team. A tendering process is nearing completion to designate lead third-party firms to oversee advanced metallurgical testing, the feasibility study and permitting, First Cobalt said.