Tag Archives: Iron ore

K2fly engaged by Fortescue for software development services

K2fly Limited says it has received orders from entities related to or associated with Fortescue Metals Group Ltd for the provision of software development services with a total contract value of A$1.2 million ($766,780).

The services will be provided on a time and materials basis over an expected period of six months.

The iron ore miner has been using K2fly’s services since 2012, initially signing up to use its Infoscope Land Management software. Within this it is also using the ASX-listed company’s Ground Disturbance Solution, among others.

Nic Pollock, CEO of K2fly, said: “We pleased to be working with Fortescue across a number of areas in the business. Fortescue are using a number of our platform solutions and, in addition, have engaged us for software development services in other areas of their business. These services are additional one-off revenues for K2fly and are also generated from time to time with other K2fly clients.”

BHP looks to halve WA Iron Ore port facility emissions with Alinta Energy pact

BHP says it expects to halve emissions from the generation of electricity used to power its WA Iron Ore port facilities in Port Hedland by the end of 2024, following the signing of a large-scale renewable Power Purchase Agreement with Alinta Energy.

The halving of reported emissions, based on current forecast demand and compared with financial year 2020 (FY2020) reported emissions, will contribute to BHP’s medium-term target to reduce operational emissions by at least 30% from FY2020 levels by 2030 and the company’s long-term goal of achieving net zero operational emissions by 2050.

This agreement between BHP and Alinta will see the construction and connection of a 45 MW solar farm and 35 MW battery energy storage system into Alinta Energy’s existing Port Hedland power station, approximately 14 km from BHP’s port facilities, BHP says.

The construction of the solar farm, subject to final regulatory approvals, is expected to begin in December 2022 and create 200 jobs.

Once completed, it is expected that 100% of the forecasted average daytime energy requirements for BHP’s port facilities will be powered by solar generation, with the remaining power requirements to be met through the integrated battery energy storage system and market access to Alinta Energy’s existing gas fuelled power station facilities.

BHP is the foundation customer of Alinta’s solar battery hybrid project, which is expected to be the first large-scale renewable facility at Port Hedland and will support the expansion of the renewable energy industry in Western Australia.

In addition, BHP and Alinta Energy have entered into a memorandum of understanding in relation to the development of the Shay Gap Wind Farm. The Shay Gap Wind Farm is currently planned to be 45 MW, with a potential first-generation date of 2027.

The PPA is the latest milestone in BHP progressing its plan to reduce operational emissions in line with BHP’s climate targets and goals.

In recent years, it has signed power purchase agreements to provide renewable energy to BHP’s Nickel West operations in Western Australia, Olympic Dam operations in South Australia, BMA operations in Queensland and the Escondida copper mine in Chile.

BHP’s WA Iron Ore Asset President, Brandon Craig, said: “The world needs WA’s high quality iron ore to support economic development and decarbonisation, and we are committed to supplying iron ore more sustainably while investing in WA and creating local jobs. We are delighted to expand our partnership with Alinta Energy as we seek to lower emissions from our WA iron ore business.”

Alinta Energy MD and CEO, Jeff Dimery, said that BHP was once again demonstrating strong leadership in the transition to net zero.

“This is exactly the kind of leadership, progress and smart use of renewables and storage that we need from companies like BHP to show the way forward for Australia,” he said. “We’re excited to get the project underway and thank BHP for their partnership and vision.”

Fortescue pledges $6.2bn of decarbonisation investment on way to producing carbon-free iron ore

Fortescue Metals Group’s decarbonisation plans have stepped up a gear, with the company announcing it intends to eliminate fossil fuel use and achieve “real zero” terrestrial emissions (Scope 1 and 2) across its iron ore operations by 2030 with a $6.2 billion capital investment.

The investment, the company says, will eliminate Fortescue’s fossil fuel risk profile and enable it to supply its customers with a “carbon-free” product.

“Real zero” refers to no fossil fuels and, wherever possible, no offsets, the company explained. Under the use of the term, offsets must only be used as a temporary solution while the technology or innovation required to completely decarbonise is developed.

Fortescue’s strategy will see the company lead the market in terms of its response to growing customer, community and investor expectations to reduce/eliminate carbon emissions, it said.

“Fortescue expects to generate attractive economic returns from its investment arising from the operating cost savings due to the elimination of diesel, natural gas, and carbon offset purchases from its supply chain,” it added. “Fortescue is well positioned to capitalise on first-mover advantage and the ability to commercialise decarbonisation technologies.”

Fortescue made the announcement at the invitation of US President Biden’s First Movers Coalition and the United Nations Global Compact, with the Secretary General of the United Nations at the CEO roundtable on “Business leadership to rescue the Sustainable Development Goals”.

Fortescue also announced that the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) will verify and audit its emissions reduction. This technical auditing initiative was instituted to ensure companies reach their Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade.

Fortescue says its decarbonisation journey started on the commencement of the first major trip on August 25, 2020, during the advent of COVID-19 to secure technology, demand and resources for the green energy ecosystem. It consolidated further at the successful completion of the 100-day sprint to create the world’s first mining truck to run on hydrogen (a FCEV).

When fully implemented, Fortescue’s decarbonisation strategy and associated investment will provide significant environmental and economic returns by 2030, including:

  • Avoidance of 3 Mt of CO2-equivalent emissions per year;
  • Net operating cost savings of $818 million per year from 2030, at prevailing market prices of diesel, gas and Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs);
  • Cumulative operating cost savings of $3 billion by 2030 and payback of capital by 2034, at prevailing market prices;
  • Elimination of Fortescue’s exposure to fossil fuels and associated fossil fuel price volatility which, in turn, will de-risk the operating cost profile;
  • Removal of the company’s exposure to price risks associated with relying on carbon offsets as well as carbon tax regulatory risk;
  • Establish a significant new green growth opportunity by producing a carbon-free iron ore product and through the commercialisation of decarbonisation technologies;
  • Ensuring future access to green driven capital markets.

Fortescue’s capital estimate of $6.2 billion is expected to see the investment largely planned in the company’s 2024-2028 financial years. This investment includes the deployment of an additional 2-3 GW of renewable energy generation and battery storage and the estimated incremental costs associated with a green mining fleet and locomotives.

The capital expenditure to purchase the fleet will be aligned with the scheduled asset replacement life cycle and included in Fortescue’s sustaining capital expenditure. Studies are underway to optimise the localised wind and solar resources.

The investment is expected to generate a positive net present value through enabling the displacement of approximately 700 million litres of diesel and 15 million GJ of gas per year by 2030, as well as the associated reduction in CO 2 emissions.

Fortescue Executive Chairman, Dr Andrew Forrest AO, said: “There’s no doubt that the energy landscape has changed dramatically over the past two years and this change has accelerated since Russia invaded Ukraine.

“We are already seeing direct benefits of the transition away from fossil fuels – we avoided 78 million litres of diesel usage at our Chichester Hub in financial year 2022 – but we must accelerate our transition to the post fossil fuel era, driving global scale industrial change as climate change continues to worsen. It will also protect our cost base, enhance our margins and set an example that a post fossil fuel era is good commercial, common sense.

“Fortescue, FFI and FMG are moving at speed to transition into a global green metals, minerals, energy and technology company, capable of delivering not just green iron ore but also the minerals, knowledge and technology critical to the energy transition.

“Consistent with Fortescue’s disciplined approach to capital allocation, this investment in renewable energy and decarbonisation is expected to generate attractive economic returns for our shareholders through energy cost savings and a sharp reduction in carbon offset purchases, together with a lower risk cost profile and improvement in the integrity of our assets.”

Fortescue has already made significant effort in decarbonising its iron ore operations through its successful green fleet trials and innovation, acquisition of Williams Advanced Engineering (WAE) and its partnership with Liebherr in June this year. Building on Fortescue’s announcement in March 2022 to develop with FFI and WAE the world’s first regenerating battery electric iron ore train, feasibility studies are progressing, with delivery of the first parabolic (gravity powered) drive trains to the Infinity locomotives scheduled to be operational by the end of 2026.

Rio Tinto and Baowu to invest $2 billion in Western Range iron ore development

Rio Tinto and China Baowu Steel Group Co. Ltd have agreed to enter into a joint venture with respect to the Western Range iron ore project in the Pilbara, Western Australia, investing $2 billion to develop the mine.

Western Range’s annual production capacity of 25 Mt of iron ore will help sustain production of the Pilbara Blend from Rio Tinto’s existing Paraburdoo mining hub. The project includes construction of a primary crusher and an 18 km conveyor system linking it to the existing Paraburdoo processing plant.

Construction is expected to begin in early 2023 with first production anticipated in 2025. The construction phase will support approximately 1,600 jobs with the mine requiring about 800 ongoing operational roles, which are expected to be filled by existing workers transitioning from other sites in the Paraburdoo mining hub.

Rio Tinto’s share of the capital costs are already included in the group’s capital expenditure guidance of around $9-10 billion for each of 2023 and 2024. Both parties will pay their portion of capital costs for the development of the mine, and mine operating costs, plus a nominal ongoing resource contribution fee calculated by reference to Western Range production volumes. There is no upfront consideration being paid by either party.

Rio Tinto and Baowu, which own 54% and 46%, respectively, of the joint venture, have also agreed to enter into an iron ore sales agreement at market prices covering a total of up to 126.5 Mt of iron ore over approximately 13 years. This volume represents Baowu’s 46% interest in the anticipated 275 Mt of production from Western Range through the joint venture.

Rio Tinto has a long history of successfully partnering and investing with customers to develop new mines in the Pilbara. Rio Tinto and Baowu’s partnership in the Pilbara dates back to the 2002 Bao-HI joint venture to develop the Eastern Range deposits in the Hamersley Ranges (Eastern Range) and Western Range, subject to a production cap of 200 Mt. It is now expected the production cap will be sourced entirely from Eastern Range, and this transaction will continue Rio Tinto’s relationship with Baowu through development of Western Range.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore Chief Executive, Simon Trott, said: “This is a very significant milestone for both Rio Tinto and Baowu, our largest customer globally. We have enjoyed a strong working relationship with Baowu for more than four decades, shipping more than 200 Mt of iron ore under our original joint venture, and we are looking forward to extending our partnership at Western Range.

“The development of Western Range represents the commencement of the next significant phase of investment in our iron ore business, helping underpin future production of the Pilbara Blend, the market benchmark.

“At the same time, Rio Tinto and Baowu continue to work together on low-carbon steelmaking research, exploring new methods to reduce carbon emissions and improve environmental performance across the steel value chain.”

Baowu Resources Chairman, Shi Bing, said: “The signing of the joint venture agreement for the Western Range project is a significant event in the history of cooperation between Baowu and Rio Tinto. We fully appreciate the persistent efforts of both teams in accomplishing the important achievement. The Bao-HI joint venture has been successfully operating for more than 20 years, leading us to a win-win result, and reaping friendship and trust.

“We hope that the two parties will deepen the mutually beneficial and win-win partnership, continue to carry forward the spirit of sincere cooperation and further expand cooperation in more fields and aspects on the basis of working together to operate the project well.”

Rio Tinto has worked closely with the Traditional Owners on whose country Western Range is situated, the Yinhawangka People, to co-design a Social and Cultural Heritage Management Plan for the project, designed to protect signiticant cultural and heritage values in the area.

The plan, which was agreed with Yinhawangka Aboriginal Corporation and announced earlier this year, outlines protocols for joint decision-making on environmental matters and mine planning.

Rio Tinto’s Paraburdoo hub is comprised of three operating mines, Paraburdoo, Channar and Eastern Range. Western Range contains two deposits, 36W–50W and 55W–66W, which are located within the Hamersley Basin of Western Australia. The deposits’ mineralisation is primarily hosted by the Brockman Iron Formation with additional detrital mineralisation present. The 36W–50W and 55W-66W deposits contain a measured resource of 22 Mt at 59.1% Fe, indicated resource of 102 Mt at 61.5% Fe and an inferred resource of 108 Mt at 61.4% Fe. The 36W–50W deposit contains a proven reserve of 109 Mt at 62.1% Fe and a probable reserve of 56 Mt at 61.7% Fe.

BHP reduces vehicle ‘events’, hazards at Yandi iron ore mine with the help of MSD

A BHP-developed system is harnessing data from a range of existing safety systems to improve safety in light vehicles (LV) and surface mobile equipment (SME) at its Western Australia Iron Ore (WAIO) mine sites, the miner says.

The Magnet Safety Dashboard (MSD) uses existing operator and equipment monitoring systems to quickly identify potential behaviours or job factors that might increase the likelihood of safety events occurring (‘at risk’ scenarios).

BHP explains: “Operations have historically used different hardware and software systems in isolation. MSD was developed to address integration potential between existing systems providing population-sized data sets on driver/operator behaviour.”

Events and hazards associated with LVs and SME can occur frequently at BHP, so the ability to quickly understand and influence human and job factors, which could contribute to safe outcomes, supports leaders to manage risk more holistically.

MSD harnesses a range of data from collision avoidance, distraction and alertness monitoring and fleet management systems, including location, speed, acceleration, braking and cornering. All selected information is monitored and assessed from a central location, which allows immediate access for relevant employees and medium-to long-term trend analysis, the company claims.

Over 800,000 metrics from more than 20,000 devices, using 300 instances of 60-plus data points, are collected.

Leaders are alerted if hardware, software and network controls are not operating as expected, while team members are alerted if acute intervention is required (where it is possible to achieve).

The system has also created efficient ways to record and display recommended response actions where chronic patterns are present, according to the company.

This accurate and timely notification of driver behaviour events, trends and hot spots requiring improvement has increased awareness and, in the Yandi iron ore mine site, resulted in reductions to the frequency of fatigue, distraction, error and non-compliance events, BHP says.

The Magnet Safety Dashboard program at Yandi Mine Site’s has contributed to a 58% reduction in overall reported vehicle events (December 2020 to April 2021) and a 70% reduction in reported speeding events (October 2020 to April 2021).

Following the program’s positive results and learning at the Yandi mine site, an MSD pilot will be implemented across all WAIO mine sites, BHP says.

SNC-Lavalin to help BAMIN join up mining and rail ops at Pedra de Ferro

SNC-Lavalin has been awarded a C$14.8 million ($11.4 million), two-year contract to provide design and engineering services for the Pedra de Ferro project in northeast Brazil for BAMIN, a wholly-owned subsidiary of ERG.

The Pedra de Ferro project involves an iron ore mining operation in the state of Bahia that extracts and processes two types of ore, hematite and itabirite, and transports it for commercialisation via rail and sea. To help increase capacity and expand production, the company will design and engineer an open-pit mine, a hematite processing plant, an itabirite processing plant, a product storage yard, a cargo loading station and a railway loop that will provide access to the West-East Integration Railroad (FIOL). In September 2021, BAMIN signed a concession agreement with the Brazilian Federal Government to complete and operate a section of the FIOL railway in the country. Once completed, FIOL will be able to carry 60 Mt/y of freight, with BAMIN’s products accounting for a third of this capacity.

“Our integrated pit-to-port approach is present at every level in the mining industry, including greenfield, brownfield, new investments, due diligence and assessment studies,” Cesar Inostroza, SNC-Lavalin Mining & Metallurgy CEO, said. “Whether it’s complementing existing operations or getting new ones up and running, we deliver safely on time and on budget.”

Maria de Lourdes Bahia, SNC-Lavalin Mining & Metallurgy Vice-president, Brazil, said: “This project is extremely important to the Brazilian economy, helping generate thousands of jobs and positioning Bahia to become the third largest iron ore producing state in Brazil. Our commitment to innovation, technology and sustainability enables us to deliver the best solutions with lasting benefits to our clients and the communities in which we work and live.”

ERG has previously flagged that Pedra de Ferro could produce up to 18 Mt/y of iron ore at full capacity.

Vale brings second Sustainable Sand operation online

Vale has added a second site to its Sustainable Sand efforts, having started industrial-scale production of the by-product at its Viga mine in Congonhas, Minas Gerais, Brazil.

The operation has the capacity to process 200,000 t/y of sand, with 80,000 t slated for 2022 and 185,000 t in 2023.

Obtained from the treatment of iron ore tailings, Sustainable Sand is one of the company’s initiatives to reduce the use of dams in its operations in Minas Gerais. The material can replace natural sand, extracted from river beds, with a wide application in the civil construction market.

Jean Menezes, Operations Manager of the Viga mine plant, said: “Due to the geological characteristics of the mine and the mineral processing technology applied, we developed a coarser sand, with low presence of fine particles in the material, and high purity content, having in its composition between 89% and 98% silica and less than 7% iron.”

The company is already conducting tests of the material with concrete and mortar producers in the Southeast Region, with the Sustainable Sand flowing between the production site and the clients by rail, taking advantage of the existing logistics at the site.

The Viga mine is Vale’s second unit to manufacture Sustainable Sand on an industrial scale, following the same quality controls as for iron ore production. The first was the Brucutu mine, in São Gonçalo do Rio Abaixo, Minas Gerais, which processed 250,000 t of the material last year. The company’s projection is to produce 1 Mt of Sustainable Sand this year, before doubling the volume in 2023.

Each tonne of sand produced represents one tonne less of tailings being placed in piles or dams, Vale says.

Another initiative adopted by Vale to reduce its dependence on dams, and which also favours the production of Sustainable Sand at the mines, is the tailings filtration system. The technology reduces the moisture of the tailings, enabling both dry stacking of the material and the manufacture of sand for the market. Four tailings filtration plants have been implemented in Minas Gerais – one in the Vargem Grande Complex (in 2021), two in the Itabira Complex (between 2021 and 2022) and one in the Brucutu Mine (in 2022).

Vale has already invested more than BRL50 million ($9.7 million) and established partnerships with more than 40 organisations, including universities, research centres and domestic and foreign companies to study applications for material from iron ore processing. The objective is to make Vale’s operations safer and more sustainable, promoting the circular economy and benefiting society.

In March this year, the first road in Brazil to use Vale’s Sustainable Sand in all four layers of pavement was inaugurated. The 425-m-long track at Cauê mine, in Itabira, will be monitored for two years with 96 pressure, temperature, deformation and humidity sensors. Tests carried out during five years in the laboratory indicated that the increase in useful life is of the order of 50% and the cost reduction is 20% when compared with materials more commonly used for road construction, such as sand extracted from the environment. In addition, each kilometer of pavement can consume up to 7,000 t of tailings.

In April 2022, a study released by the University of Queensland (UQ), through its Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI), the University of Geneva (Unige) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) pointed out that the sand from the iron ore production process, called “ore-sand”, can contribute to solve two important environmental issues by reducing both the extraction of natural sand from the environment and the generation of mining waste.

Mineral Resources kicks off work at ‘dust free’ iron ore project in the Pilbara

Mineral Resources has commenced early works at its Onslow Iron project in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, a project that, according to Chris Ellison, will be “dust-free from pit-to-port”.

The early works at Onslow, formerly known as the Ashburton project, will support first ore on ship around December 2023, MinRes says.

Onslow Iron will unlock stranded deposits that would otherwise remain undeveloped in the West Pilbara region, using MinRes’ innovative and proprietary equipment designed to process and move bulk commodities at lower costs and with a reduced environmental footprint, the company said.

Following receipt of preliminary approvals, project preparations are on track and early construction activities including bulk earthworks have commenced at the Port of Ashburton, south of Onslow. At the nearby Truck Maintenance Facility, installation of the temporary construction village is underway, with first buildings to be installed from early September.

Mine development activities have also progressed at the Ken’s Bore Deposit, east of Onslow, with construction of the A320-capacity airport and the installation of two camps to support drilling and early construction works.

Recruitment for the construction phase of Onslow Iron is also well underway alongside a continued focus on community and stakeholder consultation.

In line with the project schedule, long-lead items have been ordered including the first transhippers, which will be used to load capesize vessels that will be anchored offshore from the Port of Ashburton. Each transhipper has a 20,000-t capacity, is fully enclosed to avoid dust pollution and has a significantly lower environmental footprint when compared with the major dredging activities that would be required to construct deepwater berths at the port, according to the company.

Onslow Iron will be one of the largest iron ore developments undertaken in Western Australia, delivering substantial benefits to the state including thousands of construction and operational jobs, billions of dollars of direct local investment through capital expenditure and billions of dollars of state and commonwealth royalties over the life of the project, it added.

Mineral Resources Managing Director, Chris Ellison, said: “Onslow Iron will be transformational, not just for MinRes but for the State of Western Australia. This project will be the cornerstone of our iron ore strategy to deliver low-cost, long-life operations with project economics that are compelling through commodity price cycles.

“We’re looking forward to delivering thousands of jobs for Western Australians and investing billions in the economy.

“Importantly, our innovations will drive lower emissions across the project. Onslow Iron has been designed with a low environmental footprint and will be dust-free from pit-to-port.

“We’re also setting a new FIFO standard with our industry first, resort-style accommodation to ensure the physical and mental safety of our people and to encourage more women, and couples, to live on site.

“It’s in our DNA to aim higher, push the boundaries and forge new paths, which is why Onslow Iron really represents a new paradigm for mining in Western Australia.”

On top of the dust-free innovation and FIFO aims, MinRes has mooted it will run autonomous road trains between the pit and the port at Onslow Iron.

IMDEX’s BLAST DOG to receive first commercial runout at Iron Bridge

Mining support technology, BLAST DOG, which was developed in Australia by IMDEX Limited, is set to be used at the Iron Bridge Operations in the Pilbara of Western Australia under a new three-year agreement.

Iron Bridge is an unincorporated joint venture between Fortescue Metals Group subsidiary FMG Iron Bridge and Formosa Steel IB, with the agreement being the first commercial application of IMDEX’s BLAST DOG.

The agreement provides for the staged utilisation of BLAST DOGs, which IMDEX estimates will generate revenue of A$13 million ($9.2 million) over the initial term.

The BLAST DOG is a commodity-agnostic blasthole sensing and physical measurement technology that is semi-autonomously deployed for logging material properties and blasthole characteristics at high spatial density across the bench and mine.

IMDEX Chief Executive Officer, Paul House, said this contract win was a defining moment for IMDEX.

“This is homegrown technology designed to provide meaningful, quantifiable benefits for the mining industry,” House said.

“We are not aware of any other technology that has the capacity to produce the same quantity and quality of pre-blast rock data and provide as large an impact on downstream processes.”

“The commercial success of BLAST DOG reflected in today’s announcement is a credit to IMDEX’s R&D team and their drive to make a difference in the mining industry.”

IMDEX Chief Geoscientist, Dave Lawie, said the company overcame many obstacles, including mine access issues caused by COVID-19, to deliver the BLAST DOG project in Australia and the Americas.

“Today’s announcement is exciting because we know what BLAST DOG can produce,” Lawie said.

“It is recognition for five years of intense effort spanning the USA, Queensland, Western Australia and Chile in conjunction with our METS Ignited project partners.

“In addition to the work for the Iron Bridge joint venture, we are involved in ongoing, pre-commercial trials across various operations in Australia, Canada and Chile.”

IMDEX’s BLAST DOG provides material physical property measurements prior to blasthole drilling to inform decisions regarding blasting, screening, blending and stockpiling, among others, before these materials are subject to processing. These properties form the inputs to a tactical approach to ore characterisation and processing, IMDEX says.

Possible benefits offered by IMDEX’s BLAST DOG include the ability of mining companies to develop programs which:

  • Optimise explosive selection and costs;
  • Improve fragmentation;
  • Improve material and grade control;
  • Reduce geotechnical risk;
  • Detect voids;
  • Define ore boundaries and prevent ore waste dilution; and
  • Reduce fume, flyrock, vibration, air-blast and dust.

The BLAST DOG contract capped off a year in which IMDEX delivered record revenue, record earnings and continued margin expansion.

It reported record revenue of $341.8 million, a 29.3% increase on the same time last year; alongside record EBITDA of A$104.9 million, an increase of 38.9% on last year; and net profit after tax of A$44.7 million, up 41% on last year.

Orica’s wireless blasting tech overcomes magnetite challenges at LKAB Kiruna

A four-year collaboration between Orica and LKAB has resulted in the first production blasts using wireless initiation technology at the Kiruna iron ore mine in northern Sweden.

These blasts – charged in the middle of May and blasted in early June – are going some way to support LKAB’s safety, productivity and long-term automation objectives, according to Abhisek Roy, EMEA Head of Marketing for Orica.

It has involved an extensive amount of work to get to this blasting milestone, according to Ingemar Haslinger, Technical Services Lead Europe at Orica.

He explained: “It all started in 2018 when LKAB showed interest in our new WebGen™ wireless technology. They could see the benefits in both safety and productivity with the new way of producing the ore.”

This saw Orica go to site at the Kiruna mine in March 2018 to begin with a signal survey, testing if the company could obtain a good signal between the antenna and the in-hole receivers.

WebGen provides for groups of in-hole primers to be wirelessly initiated by a firing command that communicates through rock, water and air. This removes constraints often imposed by the requirement of a physical connection to each primer in a blast. The wireless blasting system not only improves safety – by removing people from harm’s way – but improves productivity – by removing the constraints imposed by wired connections.

It is, therefore, considered, a critical pre-cursor to automating the charging process.

To this point, WebGen has fired over 100,000 units in over 3,000 blasts globally across customer sites, Orica says.

At Kiruna, however, the process from testing to technology on-boarding was less than straightforward.

“In the area of the mine where the signal survey was completed in 2018, it was discovered that the signal could not penetrate the magnetite ore at all,” Haslinger said. “This was the first time we had encountered this and was a setback for Orica and LKAB.”

At that time, Orica did not have the localised field equipment or advanced diagnostic tools to diagnose the antenna issue, making it difficult to ascertain the root cause.

“We had to go back to our global WebGen specialists and try to understand why this was happening, which we were successfully able to do,” Haslinger said.

After dedicated work from the global team, Orica went back to Kiruna in September 2020, looking to replicate the signal survey from 2018 and use its advanced diagnostic tools to measure the antenna performance and output.

“We also had the opportunity to test the signal behaviour in the holes, as well as measure the rock properties around the antenna and the in-hole receivers,” Haslinger added.

The survey proved successful, explaining why the signal could not go through the orebody. This allowed the global WebGen team to start developing solutions to overcome the signal problem, which it was able to do in short order.

In December 2020, the Orica team was back at the underground iron ore mine to test the new solution.

“The first trials with the new solution showed positive results and the global team continued to develop that further,” Haslinger said. “In May 2021, we tried the solution in many different conditions and applications to be sure that it would work in the mine. These trials gave us a lot more knowledge about the environment and how the new solution worked.

“In 2022, we were ready to test the system in active mine operations and it has been an extensive amount of work to get us to that point.”

Development of the WebGen wireless underground blasting technology is ongoing at the Kiruna mine

Michal Gryienko, Engineer at LKAB in Kiruna, said the first two production rings were charged using WebGen in the middle of May before blasting occurred in early June. This is one of the benefits of the system, with the wireless primers able to sit dormant in the blasting profile for around 30 days prior to blast initiation.

“The results look good so far,” Gryienko said. “In total, we will blast five production rings, and the final three are planned to be blasted in September.”

Among the benefits Gryienko highlighted were the reduction in risk associated with hole priming and the possibility of detonating more blast holes due to the ability overcome damaged or unstable blasting applications.

Orica’s Roy said the collaboration between the two companies has been “fantastic”.

“Despite the challenges around transmission of signal across the magnetite orebody that is a prerequisite for a successful wireless initiation, both companies have worked as partners for the last four years, finding practical and creative solutions,” he said.

“This hopefully is the start of a long-term sustainable wireless blasting solution that supports LKAB’s safety and productivity objectives and long-term automation goals.”