Tag Archives: Oz Minerals

OZ Minerals’ West Musgrave copper-nickel plan receives board approval

The OZ Minerals Board has greenlit the build of the West Musgrave copper-nickel project in Western Australia, paving the way for the development of a remote asset using dry grinding technology, autonomous haulage and a significant volume of renewable power.

West Musgrave is set to become OZ Minerals’ fourth operating asset when it starts producing concentrate in the second half of 2025, in the process becoming the company’s cleanest and greenest mine with plans to reach net zero Scope 1 emissions by 2038.

The feasibility study the board signed off on details a 13.5 Mt/y operation with average production of circa-28,000 t/y of nickel and circa-35,000 t/y of copper over a 24-year operating life. Coming with a A$1.7 billion ($1.1 billion) direct initial capital expenditure bill, West Musgrave could provide cash flow generation of circa-A$1.9 billion during the first five years of production based on OZ Minerals’ projections.

One of the interesting additions to the process flowsheet – which has been mentioned in previous economic studies – is the use of LOESCHE’s Vertical Roller Mill (VRM) technology.

Two VRMs will operate in parallel after the primary and secondary crushing circuit at West Musgrave, with OZ Minerals noting benefits in reducing power consumption by around 20%, supporting higher flotation recovery and the operational flexibility to be ramped up and down. The latter is particularly important given OZ Minerals plans to make West Musgrave one of the largest fully off-grid, hybrid renewable powered mines in the world with an initial circa-80% renewable penetration rate, powered off wind and solar energy with a battery energy storage system in tow.

Dr Thomas Loesche, Managing Shareholder and owner of LOESCHE, said: “As a mining engineer with a degree in mineral processing, it has always been a vision of mine to develop dry-comminution technologies that enable better sorting efficiencies, reduced power and consumables. We are very pleased to be involved in such an important project. OZ Minerals is breaking new ground and proving that sustainability does not stand in the way of project development, but rather makes such projects possible.”

The application of the VRM technology has been peer reviewed for the project by independent experts and has been de-risked through pilot test work campaigns, OZ Minerals added.

Further upstream of the VRMs, OZ Minerals has stated plans to operate the mining fleet remotely from day one at West Musgrave, with the acquisition of an autonomous haulage system-enabled fleet on a leasing basis in the feasibility study outline.

OZ Minerals did not include details of the size of truck involved in the latest study, but the prefeasibility study originally released in 2020 highlighted the use of up to 25 220-t payload haul trucks.

There is also potential for these haul trucks to be electric in the future, with OZ Minerals saying its pathway is aligned with the potential transition to an electric haulage fleet at the first engine change out.

While OZ Minerals says it has the capacity to fully fund West Musgrave with a new A$1.2 billion syndicated facility supported by key relationship banks awaiting final binding agreements, it said potential strategic partnership in the project via a minority interest was being explored.

The next steps for the project involves award of contracts with major partners – it has already signed up GR Engineering to build the process plant; increasing the capacity of its camp to around 250 beds by early 2023; mobilisation of equipment to commence earthworks; finalise the power purchasing agreement and Living Hub – the latter of which has 350 permanent ensuite rooms; and increasing its owner team resources in line with the plan, including operational-readiness personnel.

Byrnecut to use six Sandvik 18-t-payload BEVs at OZ Minerals mines

Leading Australia-based contract miner Byrnecut is embracing the many benefits of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) by purchasing six Sandvik battery-powered loaders with AutoMine® for use at OZ Minerals’ operations in South Australia.

Under a deal with Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions, Byrnecut will take delivery of the LHDs in 2023 and 2024 for use at the Prominent Hill copper, gold and silver mine, south-west of Coober Pedy, and the Carrapateena copper and gold mine, north of Port Augusta. Byrnecut has been engaged by OZ Minerals to provide underground mining services at the mines and currently has a fleet of Sandvik LH621i loaders equipped with autonomous solutions operating on both sites.

We’re excited to be leading the way with battery-electric vehicles in Australia by putting these six Sandvik loaders into service over the next two years,” Max Woods, Asset Manager for Byrnecut, said. “Not only will the use of electric vehicles significantly improve the working environment underground, but it will also help our customers to work toward their emissions reduction goals – something that is increasingly important in the mining sector.”

Woods says the purchase of the electric loaders is part of Byrnecut’s commitment to explore and embrace new technologies that make its operations safer, more efficient and more sustainable.

“Eliminating emissions from loaders from the underground environment helps us create a better workplace, as does AutoMine technology that enables operators to work from comfortable remote control rooms,” he said.

Another major benefit to Byrnecut is the anticipated increased performance the new loaders could provide, Sandvik says.

The company worked closely with Sandvik prior to purchase to model various application scenarios, including both manual and automated operation.

“We’re expecting the loaders to provide greater throughput in both manual and automated modes while delivering a similar total cost of ownership per tonne delivered to their predecessors,” Woods says.

The new Sandvik loaders are also expected to bring major cost savings across their entire lifecycles, according to Woods. They are likely to require fewer replacement parts than their predecessors, and servicing is also more efficient and simpler.

Sandvik 18-t battery loaders are the most compact on the market, according to the OEM. The powerful electric motors, innovative electric driveline and the smaller tyres on the rear compared with the front, result in a small machine size, high payload with good visibility and unmatched speeds.

Battery machines produce no underground exhaust emissions and significantly less heat than traditional diesel engines, supporting the mines to reach sustainability targets, through reduced CO2 emissions.

Andrew Dawson, Business Line Manager for Load & Haul at Sandvik, praised Byrnecut for helping to pioneer the use of BEVs in Australia.

“The first Sandvik battery-electric loaders only began arriving in the country about a year ago, and the interest has been extremely strong,” he says. “We’re very pleased that Byrnecut and Oz Minerals see the benefits of this technology and is demonstrating it to the rest of the industry. We have always had an excellent working relationship with Byrnecut and look forward to cooperating with them throughout the roll-out and beyond.”

OZ Minerals backs in-situ copper-gold recovery project

OZ Minerals has committed funds to support in-situ recovery (ISR) research at the Kapunda copper-gold ISR project in South Australia, putting the project owners closer to outlining the potential economic extraction of copper resources via ISR.

Kapunda is being steered by EnviroCopper Ltd, which, itself, has a joint venture in place with tenement holder Terramin to earn up to a 75% interest in the mineral rights over metals which may be recovered via ISR.

As part of the agreement with OZ Minerals, the company has committed to A$2.5 million ($1.75 million) over 18 months to support ISR research at the Kapunda project, according to Thor Mining, which as a 30% interest in EnviroCopper.

This funding will continue studies into the potential economic extraction of copper resources via ISR, with collaboration between the two companies kicking off this quarter.

EnviroCopper plans to develop a Mining Lease application for the Kapunda project, which, from 2018-2021, was subject to extensive research into solving existing knowledge gaps in the ISR industry. Funded by a Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) Program Grant from the Dept of Industry, Innovation and Science to the total value of A$6 million (cash and in-kind), EnviroCopper partnered with industry, CSIRO and University of Adelaide to carry out this work.

The key objective was to research the core values of environmental, social and economic impacts of ISR mining, a proven method of metal recovery that has been used for over 50 years and, with recent technological improvements, is being considered for the recovery of metals like gold and copper from mineral deposits that can not be mined by conventional methods.

Kapunda is a town with a rich mining history, growing from Australia’s first ever commercial copper mine in the 1840s. Even though the mine ceased production in the early 1900s, successive mining companies have looked at recovering the remaining copper over time, but, due to the proximity to town, conventional mining would not be possible. ISR mining is a possible solution to extracting this remaining copper in an environmentally- and community-sensitive manner.

Zero Automotive overcoming barriers with BEV conversion offering

Zero Automotive is one of several Australia-based companies looking to supply the clean and green light utility vehicles the domestic hard-rock sector requires over the next decades to achieve crucial sustainability goals while retaining high productivity levels.

Thanks to the support of a significant copper-gold miner in Australia, its membership of the Electric Mine Consortium (EMC) and METS Ignited backing, the company finds itself in a strong position to deliver these machines against a backdrop of supply chain issues and ever-evolving safety and regulatory requirements.

“We’ve got commitments for six machines altogether and are in the process of offering our production version to the market,” Dan Taylor, Business Development Manager for Zero Automotive, says.

The first and second units are already running at OZ Minerals’ Carrapateena copper-gold mine in South Australia – Zero Automotive’s home state.

The first machine – a ZED70 Ti™ battery-electric light vehicle – was originally delivered to the mine at the back end of 2020 for testing. After successful trials, the company acquired this unit outright and, in early-2022, added a second Zero Automotive ZED70 Ti to enable its workforce to familiarise themselves with the capabilities and charging methodology that come with electric light utility vehicles.

Since then, the company has delivered a third ZED70 Ti conversion to Barminco, which is now on site at its client IGO Ltd’s Nova nickel-copper-cobalt operation in Western Australia. This vehicle is the first single cab conversion developed by Zero Automotive and will be deployed to site foremen to allow the mining contractor to gain a good understanding of its capabilities.

All three of these machines – and the three to follow – are based off battery-electric conversions of the Toyota LandCruiser 79 Series, a vehicle that has been part of the Australian mining landscape for many years.

The modular nature of the Zero Automotive platform enables its long-life battery energy system to be reused in multiple chassis, lowering the total lifecycle cost of the fleet as well as the cost of Scope 1 emissions, according to the company.

They also include dual AC-DC charging with the CCS Combo2 connection, which is becoming increasingly standardised in the mining space.

Data and feedback from the second OZ Minerals machine and the initial Barminco vehicle will be fed back into the EMC ecosystem under the Light and Auxiliary Equipment Working Group as part of the consortium’s continual improvement and knowledge sharing remit.

The EMC said of the consortium’s ongoing light and auxiliary equipment electrification ambitions: “Converting light and auxiliary vehicles as rapidly as possible to electric is key to the industry building the broader understanding and familiarity with electric equipment and infrastructure that will accelerate adoption across all aspects of operations.”

The EMC is a growing group of over 20 mining and service companies driven by the imperative to produce zero-emission products for their customers and meet mounting investor expectations. The objective of the EMC, backed by METS Ignited, is to accelerate progress toward the zero-carbon and zero-particulate mine.

The following three machines are also expected to be deployed to EMC members, with METS Ignited agreeing to provide some A$400,000 ($297,938) of funding towards the diesel-to-battery conversion projects outside of the vehicles already delivered to OZ Minerals.

“The key thing with all of these vehicle deployments is the ZED70 Ti being able to do the job the miners need to perform safely and reliably, getting the associated charging infrastructure right and working with key stakeholders on the change management process,” Dave Mitchell, founder and CEO of Zero Automotive, says. “Operators also need to get used to the power under the hood and how to maximise the battery re-charging capabilities when going down ramp.

“As a matter of course, we train up and educate the sites about the best way to utilise these vehicles,” he said.

To this point, the two prototype vehicles already operating out at Carrapateena have shown that they can work for a typical shift without requiring a re-charge and can then utilise the battery’s AC/DC-DC fast-charge option during shift changeover to enable another user to run the machine for the following shift.

The use of LTO (Lithium Titanate Oxide) battery chemistry and a 60-kWh battery capacity has been behind this performance. This electric motor can generate continuous power of 75 kW and peak power of 134 kW, plus 358 Nm of continuous torque. These values will be increased to 100 kW, 200 kW and 520 Nm (1,200 Nm peak) for the production version.

To this point, the power dimension has often been the main metric quoted with any battery-electric machine, but Taylor pointed out that safety and regulatory considerations were often the biggest barriers to overcome in terms of getting machines operating at underground mines – a hurdle that Zero Automotive has cleared.

“We were able to successfully commission our second ZED70 Ti for OZ Minerals within two days of the machine arriving on site,” he said. “A lot of people are putting out offerings for light utility vehicles, but the required risk analysis in terms of deploying a vehicle underground has not been successfully worked through. This is rightfully a high bar to clear.

“We address any safety or regulatory considerations during our design process – not when the machine is on site – to make sure that operators can start using them quickly.”

Mitchell adds: “The user case is what we are focused on. That has allowed us to scale our offering quickly and ensure our clients can start running the machine underground as soon as they have it on site.”

Zero Automotive is expecting to deploy the other three machines on its books to the same companies (OZ Minerals and Barminco), but the final two machines of the six to be delivered will be under a revised platform to the original ZED70 Ti.

“It will be a platform that is designed from the ground up that incorporates the desired features and learnings from the first conversions, but we will simplify it to reduce complexity, weight and cost,” Mitchell said. “We’re sticking with the same battery configuration – which has proven itself in terms of power, safety and longevity – but we’re adding some auxiliary power outputs and ensuring the machine is multi-purpose.”

The latter element is tied to the company’s medium-to-long-term ambitions, which include the potential to supply battery-electric machines specific to the extended range space too.

For now, Zero Automotive is focused on getting its machines underground at hard-rock operations, ensuring operators and mining companies start realising the productivity and emission benefits that come with these zero-emission conversions.

OZ Minerals turns down BHP’s A$25/share cash offer

OZ Minerals says it has rejected an unsolicited, conditional and non-binding indicative proposal from BHP to acquire all shares in the company for A$25/share ($17.3/share) in cash, valuing the company at an reported A$8.34 billion.

Having assessed this proposal, which represents a 13.1% premium to the volume weighted average price (VWAP) of OZ’s share price for the six months prior, the Board has unanimously determined that the offer significantly undervalues OZ Minerals and, as such, is not in the best interests of shareholders.

For its part, BHP points out in a separate press release that the consideration represents an “attractive premium” of 32.1% to OZ Minerals’ closing price of A$18.92/share on August 5 and 41.4% to OZ Minerals’ 30-day VWAP of A$17.67/share up to and including August 5.

OZ Minerals says the proposal is subject to a number of conditions including:

  • The completion of extensive financial, legal, technical and operational due diligence over a proposed six-week timeframe;
  • Various financial assumptions;
  • A unanimous recommendation of the OZ Minerals Board; and
  • Entry into a scheme implementation agreement subject to a range of conditions including no material adverse change, regulatory, shareholder and court approvals and conduct of business restrictions.

OZ Minerals says the Board has been advised by BHP that it has accumulated an interest in OZ Minerals shares via derivative instruments amounting to an interest of less than 5%.

OZ Minerals Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Andrew Cole, said: “We have a unique set of copper and nickel assets, all with strong long-term growth potential in quality locations. We are mining minerals that are in strong demand particularly for the global electrification and decarbonisation thematic and we have a long-life resource and reserve base. We do not consider the proposal from BHP sufficiently recognises these attributes.”

In coming to its decision, OZ Minerals says the Board considered that the proposal does not adequately compensate shareholders for:

  • The unique nature of OZ Minerals’ core business which represents a high-quality portfolio of copper and nickel assets, located in a Tier-1 mining jurisdiction with long mine lives, first quartile cost positioning and extensive strategic optionality;
  • The unique investment proposition which OZ Minerals provides as the only primary copper company in the ASX 100;
  • The low carbon intensity of OZ Minerals’ assets relative to its peers with a defined and market- leading plan for further decarbonisation to meet our target of net zero Scope 1 and 2 operational emissions by 2030;
  • The high-quality nature of OZ Minerals’ growth projects which include the West Musgrave project (final investment decision scheduled for H2 2022), the Carrapateena Block Cave and the Prominent Hill Extension which together are expected to generate significant production growth over the next five years;
  • The strong long-term outlook for both the copper and nickel markets underpinned by increasing geological scarcity, global electrification and accelerating decarbonisation, to which OZ Minerals is highly leveraged; and
  • The strong and consistent returns that the OZ Minerals management team has delivered with a total shareholder return of circa-145% over the past five years.

In addition to the above, OZ Minerals would deliver significant synergies and other benefits to BHP which the Board considers are not reflected in the value of BHP’s indicative proposal.

Among there are the operational synergies in both South Australia (between Olympic Dam, Carrapateena and Prominent Hill) and in Western Australia (between Nickel West and West Musgrave).

BHP says the cash offer it has made would deliver immediate value to OZ Minerals shareholders and de-risk any value which may (or may not) eventually be reflected in the company’s share price.

BHP CEO, Mike Henry, said: “Our proposal represents compelling value and certainty for OZ Minerals shareholders in the face of a deteriorating external environment and increased OZ Minerals operational- and growth-related funding challenges.

“We are disappointed that the Board of OZ Minerals has indicated that it is not willing to entertain our compelling offer or provide us with access to due diligence in relation to our proposal.”

Orexplore Technologies wins GeoCore X10 drill core scanning contract from OZ Minerals

Orexplore Technologies says it has signed a binding agreement valued at around A$2.35 million ($1.6 million) with OZ Minerals that will see the ASX-listed mineral scanning technology company deliver site-based drill-core and sample scanning services using its GeoCore X10® hardware and Orexplore Insight® software.

This work will support the testing of new data-driven processes focused on optimising resource, scale and value outcomes, the testing of innovative processes and technologies across the value chain, and exploration for new resources, Orexplore says.

Through the Think & Act Differently (TAD) incubator, OZ Minerals is running several study-stage investment review and screening processes, using its new Concept of Operations approach. Concept of Operations are commonly used in other sectors such as the space sector to rapidly test multiple new value chain options. To support this approach TAD has assembled an extended team to identify and test new flowsheet options and leverage open-source crowds to apply advanced data analytics to large data sets that will be generated.

The scope of Orexplore’s field deployment is focused on the scanning and analysis of approximately 30,000 m of historical drill core and samples on site, delivered across a period of approximately six months from an overall estimated 100,000 m of available core and samples. Subject to site conditions and the emerging requirements from the TAD team, additional site-based historical core and samples may be added to the scanning quantity, Orexplore says.

The scan results will be used by the TAD team to inform digital “enhanced resource models” that will feed an overall process and project optimisation simulation system as a tool to deliver accelerated options support and outcomes, it explained.

Orexplore’s Technology Platform comprises its field-sensing GeoCore X10 hardware product that rapidly extracts information from drilled core in less than 15 minutes per metre, and its Orexplore Insight software. The software enables remote geological decision makers anywhere to analyse and interpret results to improve orebody knowledge acquisition. This can potentially accelerate decision making across the mining value chain from exploration to operational improvements.

The company will deploy its Technology Platform to site in a self-sustained containerised unit that will be operated by on-site scanning technicians and support staff.

Orexplore’s Managing Director, Brett Giroud, said: “This agreement further demonstrates increasing demand for non-destructive, 3D information sourced rapidly from the field to inform decision processes. This deployment will seek to illustrate the value this can create within accelerated studies and the ability to provide additional support to techno-economic assessments.

“The in-field deployment of Orexplore’s patented Technology Platform provides an innovative new data set to OZ Minerals through the technology’s ability to ‘see through the core’ in addition to its full surface sensing capability. This unique combination can unlock a broad suite of information from deep within the core to further advance orebody knowledge.”

He concluded: “We remain focused on the commercialisation of our transformational Technology Platform through field deployments and laboratory scanning to unlock new value for our customers. The capability of the technology to power unique value propositions across the mining value chain is being demonstrated further, from our recent ‘x-ray eyes’ exploration decision support commercial deployment, to this innovative orebody knowledge solution for OZ Minerals. The company also continues to further advance additional potential applications for the technology such as emerging assay efficiency optimisation, grade control products and sustainability enablers.”

Draslovka eyes base metal leaching prize with MPS glycine technology

Draslovka Holding made its presence felt in the mining chemicals space about a year ago when it announced plans to acquire Chemours Company’s Mining Solutions business, a deal that has since seen it become one of the largest North American producers of solid sodium cyanide.

This acquisition, completed in December for $521 million, also laid the groundwork for a separate transaction that could see the Czech Republic-based company diversify into the in-demand battery metals arena.

Australia-based Mining & Process Solutions (MPS) had been on the Mining Solutions business radar for at least two years prior to the Draslovka transaction, according to James Stockbridge, Director of Draslovka Mining Solutions. Stockbridge, formerly of Chemours and DuPont, said that his team at Draslovka realised MPS had something on its books that could solve many of the challenges the industry was experiencing and transform mining solutions by using an amino acid called glycine.

“For more than a decade now, the industry has recognised that orebodies are becoming lower grade, processing them is becoming more complex and the environmental regulations associated with leaching are becoming stricter,” Stockbridge told IM.

“It is the challenge of our time, and we think MPS has something quite unique to offer here.”

With roots in the gold technology group at the renowned Curtin University in Western Australia, MPS’ glycine leaching technology has the potential to change both the gold and base metal leaching space.

In gold, MPS’ GlyCat™ process was invented to reduce cyanide consumption while maintaining gold recovery for gold ores from deposits containing nuisance copper. GlyCat has been designed to enhance the dissolution of gold and copper in gold/copper ores where glycine is used as a catalyst with cyanide in a cyanide-starved leaching environment. It doesn’t replace cyanide, but, in fact, enhances its leaching capabilities by dealing with the high-cyanide consuming copper within these gold-copper orebodies.

In copper, nickel, cobalt and zinc leaching, GlyLeach™ is able to leach the targeted metals with enhanced selectivity compared with conventional methods. It will solubilise copper, nickel, cobalt and zinc, while gangue minerals such as iron, manganese, silicates and carbonates remain in the leach residue, MPS says.

Both technologies are environmentally safe, work effectively at alkaline pHs and ambient temperatures (with no heating cost or pressure vessels) and come with low operating costs due to their low consumption and recovery/recycling traits, according to the company.

While it is the gold side of glycine leaching testing that has, so far, taken the headlines thanks to several trials with mining companies in Australia (including Evolution Mining) and the technology’s potential ability to partially replace cyanide in the leaching process, Stockbridge and his colleague Jackson Briggs (Corporate Development Manager for Draslovka) said Draslovka was most excited about what the technology could offer the base metal space.

Briggs said: “It gives us the opportunity to expand our leadership position in gold leaching agents into base metals. At the same time, it also allows us to incorporate our expertise in that chemistry and chemical manufacturing side of things.”

Stockbridge – not wanting to give away too much – hinted at how this latter opportunity could play out.

“The leaching technology will also influence the way you, for instance, operate, monitor and control the plant,” he said. “This process will be different, and we will be bringing in new technologies to cater to this.”

Considering Draslovka can produce glycine from its existing hydrogen cyanide production footprint, there is potential for a very smooth integration on the supply chain side of things.

Asked to quantify some of the benefits of the technology, Stockbridge was happy to point out GlyLeach’s potential to “simplify the flowsheet” for, say, nickel production, removing the smelting aspect and resultant ore transportation – providing capital and carbon footprint benefits.

Briggs added: “It can change a lot from ore-to-ore with GlyLeach, but, in a really strong business case, you are looking at a 25% reduction in processing costs.”

This is on top of a 10-35% improvement on the recovery side, compared with conventional leaching, Stockbridge said, citing “proof of concept” studies.

As for GlyCat, the sweet spot – as already hinted at – is in gold-copper orebodies where copper is a large cyanide consumer, with the technology allowing cyanide to work more efficiently and effectively.

Both technologies recently featured in OZ Minerals Ingenious Extraction Innovator challenge outcomes publication, while GlyCat has also been the subject of a one-off study looking at combining it with Sixth Wave Innovations’ IXOS® molecular imprinted polymer for gold extraction.

Australia’s Future Battery Industry Cooperative Research Centre, which is sponsored by the likes of Sandfire Resources, Barrick Gold, Coda Minerals (previously Gindalbie Metals) and Poseidon Nickel, is also coordinating some of the work towards commercialising GlyLeach.

There is a strong business case for both technologies first being deployed at scale on tailings deposits that have been deemed to have no associated value – a point both Stockbridge and Briggs acknowledged.

Briggs said: “In terms of accelerating the development of the technologies, there are tailings deposits and waste piles situated all over the globe with high amounts of precious and base metals that have not been extracted due to the limitations and economies associated with current processing technology. We could provide an economic way of extracting those.

“It would also provide us a project with much reduced start-up times compared with, say, a greenfield project.”

Stockbridge added: “We have carried out some work on this type of application before and believe there is the potential to extract 50% of the nickel that they couldn’t access with existing technology by using GlyLeach.”

From the mining company perspective, deploying a new technology on material already written off comes with a lot less risk too.

That is before appreciating that the material won’t have to be smelted on site, that the process produces no free cyanide and that gangue materials do not come out in solution.

It is no wonder the Draslovka duo are excited about the technology’s potential; GlyLeach in particular.

“The ability to help nickel and copper miners produce more metal to rescue some of these deposits that have been forgotten or under-developed because of technology limitations and be able to do so in a way that is more environmentally friendly is exciting.

“Potentially, this technology could help localise more electric vehicle supply chains by removing the need for smelting and providing a cost-effective and environmentally friendly means of extracting metals.

“We cannot wait to get started.”

OZ Minerals Prominent Hill joins Aqura 5G Underground Initiative

Aqura says its 5G Underground Initiative in Australia is progressing to plan, with the company having recently added OZ Minerals’ Prominent Hill mine to the project, joining representatives from one of Northern Star Resources’ operations in the project.

Aqura, recently acquired by Telstra Purple, was awarded a grant back in 2021 from the Australian Government under the 5G Innovation Initiative to augment the organisation’s own development work to address the challenge of delivering underground 5G LTE. This development work included technical architectures, commercial model development and installation of a live Private 5G LTE network in an operating mine.

The 5G Underground Initiative leverages learnings from a 2017 project where Aqura successfully delivered Private 4G LTE in an underground mine in the Kalgoorlie region of Western Australia.

Aqura says it has onboarded Northern Star and OZ Minerals by providing a detailed design for both of its chosen mines.

“Having two different mines involved in the project will greatly extend the diversity of the technology architectures developed to suit more mine operation types,” it noted.

Site visits to validate terrain and existing infrastructure are currently in progress. Equipment acquisition is also underway, with works expected to commence at both sites in August 2022, Aqura said.

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.

EU competition, collaboration and connections helping Epiroc solve mining challenges

Epiroc’s start-up mentality is enabling it to continue to solve the mining industry’s biggest challenges, but it is not doing this alone, according to Katarina Öquist, R&D Manager of Technology and Innovation in the Underground Division.

Speaking ahead of her appearance at the EIT Raw Materials Summit 2022 in Berlin, Germany – taking place on May 23-25 – Öquist said access to other industry partners, academic institutes and start-ups through initiatives like EIT Raw Materials continues to help the company overcome challenges the sector throws at it.

“Specifically on the EIT Raw Materials project, there is the possibility to take in young start-ups and academic institutes, which can prove key when considering the ‘kicks‘ the funding can provide such companies and initiatives,” she said. “It is important for these young technology companies to have a connection to applications, being able to test out concepts and ideas in a real-world environment with companies like Epiroc, and, at the same time, introduce new thinking into industries such as mining.”

This wide scope of participation is increasingly required when considering the future direction of the mining industry, according to Öquist.

Katarina Öquist, R&D Manager of Technology and Innovation in Epiroc’s Underground Division

“If you look at the mining industry, and the part I am in with Epiroc, we are experiencing the biggest technology shift ever,” she said. “We are looking at electrification, autonomy and digitalisation all at the same time. All of these have interdependencies and connections in between, which make it quite complicated.

“When I started in the start-up sector some 15 years ago, you often were looking to solve one problem, but, today, you are not offering the sole solution; you must interact with a much bigger technology ecosystem.

“For this, collaboration is very important.”

In this regard, EIT Raw Materials and European Union Commission funding are more important than ever, ensuring all stakeholders are connected and focused on coming up with workable solutions for industry to achieve their lofty ambitions.

While not tied to EIT Raw Materials, the NEXGEN SIMS project is a good example to highlight here.

NEXGEN SIMS builds on the EU-sponsored SIMS (Sustainable Intelligent Mining Systems) project, which aimed to demonstrate new technology and solutions for the mining industry. Running from 2017 to 2020, the SIMS project resulted in, among other things, the Epiroc line of battery-powered mining machines.

NEXGEN SIMS, meanwhile, is a consortium of 13 partners collaborating in an EU-sponsored project to develop autonomous, carbon-neutral, sustainable mining solutions, building on the SIMS success. The partners are Epiroc Rock Drills, AFRY – ÅF Digital Solutions, Agnico Eagle Finland, Boliden Mineral, Ericsson, KGHM Cuprum, KGHM Polska Miedź, K+S Minerals and Agriculture, Luleå University of Technology (LTU), LTU Business, Mobilaris MCE, OZ Minerals and RWTH Aachen University. The project, led by Epiroc, has a budget of €16 million ($16.8 million) and will run from May 2021 to April 2024.

“In the case of NEXGEN SIMS, it is built on a known partnership including new partners,” Öquist said. “After being involved with the majority of these partners since SIMS, we build from a high level of trust, which increases the possibility of success, especially concerning integration.

“Europe, in general, is very good in facilitating these type of collaborative projects that involve all segments of the innovation ecosystem – start-ups, industry partners and academics.”

According to Öquist, the NEXGEN SIMS project remains on track, with the integrations between electrification, automation and digitalisation likely to hold the most exciting outcomes for the wider mining industry.

For its part, Epiroc is also helping accelerate the development of start-ups of its own, taking stakes/interests in key technology providers and allowing them access to its much larger network.

ASI Mining, FVT Research and Mining TAG represent just a few examples here.

Öquist expanded on this with a reference to Mobilaris MCE, a company Epiroc acquired outright just last year, after five years of holding a 34% stake.

“They (Mobilaris MCE) started off in 1999 as a start-up from the telecoms business,” she said. “Due to them being in the northern part of Sweden, they tagged onto the mines and we ended up acquiring a minority interest in them.

“In the five years since, they have had a nice journey under the guise of Epiroc. They represent a local small start-up growing by going under the wings of a much larger industry partner.”

Epiroc, too, has benefitted from this collaboration, with Mobilaris MCE’s situational awareness technology recently becoming a key part of the OEM’s 6th Sense digital solution.

Not all OEMs would be willing to facilitate the growth of other companies in such a way, but Öquist, who has only been in her role with Epiroc for two years, puts this down to the company‘s unique culture.

“We call ourselves a 150-year-old start-up,” she said. “Regardless of how big we grow, that mindset remains – if someone highlights a problem, we set out to solve it through both internal and external collaboration.”