Tag Archives: Sustainable Minerals Institute

SMI-ICE-Chile projects taking on BHP Tailings Challenge

Two proposals supported by the Sustainable Minerals Institute’s International Centre of Excellence in Chile (SMI-ICE-Chile) are advancing to the second round of the BHP Tailings Challenge.

A global competition that aims to fundamentally change how the industry manages copper tailings, the BHP Tailings Challenge announced in January that 10 companies and consortia had been selected to advance to the laboratory test stage of the program. The challenge is seeking solutions and new business models to reuse copper tailings.

The SMI-ICE-Chile-supported proposals advancing to the proof-of-concept stage include one from the Solar Tailings Transformation (STT) Consortium, which SMI-ICE-Chile leads. This consortium is proposing a solution that integrates several solar thermal energy-powered processes to convert tailings material into a stable multi-purpose pellet and high-quality water.

SMI-ICE-Chile is also the local coordinator of the Recomine proposal, which is led by the Helmholtz-Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology and is focused on the development and integration of a series of modular processes to separate out valuable products from the tailings.

The BHP Tailings Challenge, supported by Fundación Chile through its Expande program, aims to promote and deliver new technological solutions and business models for reusing copper tailings, and will provide $10 million in grants to successful developers.

The teams advancing to the proof-of-concept stage are given a $50,000 grant and sample of tailings with which to validate their solutions at a laboratory level before demonstrating its technical and economic feasibility in a demo day in August 2021.

SMI-ICE-Chile Sustainability Leader, Dr Douglas Aitken, said both proposals are innovative solutions that have the potential to drive positive change in tailings management practices and generate considerable value to industry and society.

“The social and environmental issues associated with tailings represent a major challenge for the industry, but by replacing the traditional disposal-based approach with new and innovative value recovery solutions, we aim to eliminate the negative aspects of tailings and instead create social and economic benefits,” he said.

The BHP Tailings Challenge provides an opportunity to develop and test exciting new ideas that could result in the tailings management process becoming safer and an industry asset instead of a burden, SMI-ICE-Chile added.

Dr Felipe Saavedra, the STT project lead for the SMI-ICE-Chile team, explained the proposed concept and the expected benefits.

“The STT consortium is a multi-disciplinary group comprised of researchers from SMI-ICE-Chile, SMI, IMDEA Energy, SEENSO, and Aiguasol Latam,” he said. “The proposed concept aims to repurpose over 50% of operational tailings production using solar thermal energy to dewater the tailings and produce a stable and flexible end-product.

“It is a sustainable approach that takes a complex and difficult-to-handle mine waste and transforms it into a material that can be used by numerous local industries, such as construction, road building and agriculture. We expect that the recovered water will also have considerable value for local water users, its availability should offset freshwater extraction from natural resources, thereby protecting local ecosystems.”

Dr Saavedra concluded: “We hope that the solution will generate wide-spread social and economic development and we’re looking forward to testing the technologies with our partners in the coming months.”

BMA, Whitehaven pour funds into research on human aspects of mine automation

Researchers from The University of Queensland’s Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI) have secured funding from the mining industry to undertake research that aims to ensure increased system automation is accompanied by improvements to safety and health.

The funding will support several projects as part of the Human Aspects of Mining Automation research program developed by SMI’s Minerals Industry Safety and Health Centre and involve researchers from across UQ.

BHP Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) is contributing A$300,000 ($218.653) and Whitehaven Coal, as part of an enforceable undertaking, is contributing A$225,000 to a multi-year collaborative research consortium initially focused on four priority human aspects of automation topics: risk analysis; human-centred design; training; and health.

UQ Human Aspects of Automation Program Leader Professor, Robin Burgess-Limerick, said the funding would ensure automation would improve safety as well as productivity.

“Australia is at the forefront in the automation of mining equipment, with approximately 40% of all automated fleet installations globally,” Professor Burgess-Limerick said.

“It’s likely that automation will be a net benefit for safety and health because people are being removed from hazardous areas, however, to ensure that is the case, systems need to be designed with people’s capabilities and limitations in mind.”

BMA Head of Production, Frans Knox, said that the research would help BMA further build upon its current health and safety processes.

“Our workforce is fundamental to mine automation and their safety remains our number one priority,” Knox said. “This includes their health – both mental and physical – so it is critical that we invest in understanding how our workforce can interact with these new systems in the safest and healthiest way.”

Autonomous haulage is in use at BMA’s Goonyella Riverside mine and will soon be introduced at Daunia.

“We are seeing some early positive signs from our Goonyella Riverside operation, who are at the beginning of their automation journey,” Knox said. “Their performance to date continues to build further confidence in the safety case for autonomous haulage.”

JKMRC keeps tabs on Glencore Mount Isa test work via video streaming

Mineral processing experts from the Sustainable Minerals Institute’s (SMI) Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre (JKMRC) have overcome the hurdle of COVID-19-related travel restrictions to develop a remote survey coordination method which, they say, allows them to engage with site personnel and facilitate the same procedures they would have in person through the use of video streaming.

This approach enabled the team to connect and converse directly with both the copper processing team and metallurgical laboratory at Glencore’s Mount Isa mines.

JKMRC explained: “Surveying, diagnosing and identifying improvement opportunities for processing plants generally requires teams to travel to a mine site, often in remote locations, and undertake hands-on testing alongside mine personnel − a difficult feat considering ongoing travel and distancing restrictions.”

JKMRC Senior Research Fellow and Process Performance Specialist, Lizette Verster, said the new approach offered a flexible, robust and practical alternative to the conventional method.

“Usually when one conducts a survey like this, it would involve a team of researchers travelling to a site, staying there for a minimum of a week, and working closely with site personnel,” she said.

“In this case, rather than us having a representative attend the site who coordinates the work, Glencore nominated an on-site representative who took responsibility and worked with us to ensure they had the information required to perform the survey.”

The JKMRC team set up a video link between the copper processing team and metallurgical laboratory so they could observe and direct the test work as it was being performed.

“The most important aspect of this is establishing a safe mobile link that is in line with the site’s safety requirements,” Verster said. “All remote viewing equipment allowed for hands-free operation and was protected against dust and water exposure.

“We opted to mount a smartphone on a hard hat or, alternatively a chest harness, that allowed site personnel to freely move around the plant while continuously streaming audio-visual data, and allowing for two-way communication.”

Verster said the experience the JKMRC team had at Mount Isa bodes well for using the method in the future.

“We are definitely pursuing this method going forward as it allows for the effective remote coordination of site work,” she said. “It also provides greater flexibility of survey timing which means one can make better use of operational windows for successful survey execution that doesn’t have to be pre-determined weeks in advance.

“The key to success is communication and lots of upfront planning and we are fortunate to have a close relationship with Glencore and are working with them on a number of projects.”

Glencore’s Mount Isa Mines Senior Process Engineer, Roxanne O’Donnell, was impressed with the ease in using video streaming to enable the remote testing.

“This approach minimised the need for people to come onsite and proved very effective in streamlining the analysis of our mineral processing operations,” O’Donnell said.

“At Glencore, we recognise that collaboration is the key to unlocking innovations and improvement opportunities, and we were really pleased to work with the team at the Sustainable Minerals Institute’s Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre.”

JKMRC researchers tackle SAG mill fill productivity challenge with new ‘soft sensor’

Researchers from the Sustainable Minerals Institute’s Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre (JKMRC) say they are developing a soft sensor to overcome previously-accepted performance challenges facing SAG mills.

SAG mills are a key asset for mineral processing operations as one of the critical stages of extracting mineral out of ore, and their continued stable operation is central to productivity, the JKMRC says.

However, the performance of a SAG mill changes rapidly in response to conditions such as feed size and hardness, as well as longer-term variability due to liner wear – something no instrumentation can directly observe, according to the research centre.

The new Mill Filling Prediction (MFP) tool is a soft sensor (a mathematical model that act as a sensor) to provide information about the mill’s contents and enable it to be controlled closer to its maximum capacity, it says. The MFP tool is developed by Dr Marko Hilden (pictured with Mohsen Yahyaei here), a Senior Researcher at JKMRC, who transformed and updated models that have been developed by various researchers at JKMRC and developed new models to suit the new application.

Associate Professor, Mohsen Yahyaei, who is JKMRC’s Advanced Process Prediction and Control (APPCo) Group Leader, said the MFP tool includes mathematical models that predict the wear condition of the mill, the level of mill filling, the filling of the steel grinding media and particle trajectory.

“The models capture data from commonly installed sensors around SAG mills, which allows the model to run in real time, giving the operator instant feedback on the critical conditions that affect mill performance,” he said.

“The MFPT is already being implemented at a number of industrial sites, and they are starting to see multiple benefits in the control of the grinding circuit.”

In the mining sector, most energy is used during mineral processing, with comminution – which includes grinding – accounting for 70% of total energy usage in some sub-sectors, according to the JKMRC.

Associate Professor Yahyaei said precisely predicting mill filling can increase operators’ confidence in running the mill at a higher average filling and power draw, thereby increasing overall equipment effectiveness and throughput.

“The operator can be alerted when undesirable conditions such as slurry pooling are imminent, reducing the risk of the mill being overloaded,” he said.

“Estimation and display of steel ball level reduces the need to perform regular manual measurements which require stopping and sometimes entering the mill, and, therefore, reduces the impact on production and personnel health and safety.

“And warnings, when shell impacts are likely, can help the operators select operating conditions that avoid excessive liner wear and grinding media consumption.”

JKMRC’s APPCo Group aims to transform unit process modelling and simulation by moving from steady-state models to techniques that make greater use of data generated on-site and sensor technologies in combination with advanced process control, computational analytics and modelling techniques, according to the JKMRC.

Mining-focused consortium delves into mine closure ‘transition’

The University of Queensland’s Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI) has published the first six project reports of the Social Aspects of Mine Closure Research Consortium.

Researchers at SMI’s Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining (CSRM) led the mine closure-related projects, which, they say, examined Indigenous employment opportunities, public participation and government engagement processes, integrating social aspects into industry partners’ closure planning, governance and regulation and mining as a temporary land use.

“The consortium is a multi-party, industry-university research collaboration established to conduct research that challenges accepted industry norms and practices and demands new approaches that place people at the centre of mine closure,” SMI said.

CSRM Director Professor, Deanna Kemp, said publishing the reports contributed significantly to the mine closure literature and provided stakeholders with the latest information.

“In the consortium’s first year of operation, we focused on establishing data and knowledge to inform subsequent research. This strategy is evident in the diversity of projects undertaken,” she said.

“A core theme has been around ‘transition’; that is, viewing closure not merely as an end-point of mining, but as a transition to a post-mining future in which social change continues long after a mine ceases to be productive.”

She said the consortium was now developing its 2020 research plan, “which will build on this solid foundation and deliver on our consortium partners’ priorities”.

Major mining companies such as Anglo American, BHP, MMG, Newcrest, Newmont, OceanaGold and Rio Tinto are consortium members, with the work sitting under the SMI’s Transforming the Mine Life Cycle strategic research program as one of three research themes (transitioning through closure).

Under the ‘Indigenous groups, land rehabilitation and mine closure: exploring the Australian terrain’ project, two challenging areas at the interface of mining and Indigenous communities in Australia are being addressed.

This includes, one, the persistent lack of direct employment of Indigenous landowners on mines operating on their land; and, two, increasing expectations that mining companies engage local communities in closure planning and closure criteria setting as a prerequisite for relinquishment.

“The approach taken seeks to build on one of the greatest assets Indigenous people possess; their attachment to and knowledge of their land,” the SMI said.

In the ‘Integrated mine closure planning: A rapid scan of innovations in corporate practice’ project, the study aims to identify novel approaches used by consortium member companies to integrate social dimensions into closure planning.

Identifying these approaches promotes knowledge exchange between the companies and provides direction for future research and innovation for mine closure performance, according to the SMI.

“We found that the companies are at various stages of integrating environmental, social and economic factors into planning (at all stages of the mine lifecycle),” it said.

The ‘Participatory processes, mine closure and social transitions’ project examines the fact that, in closure planning, the focus of public participation is on identifying and managing the changes brought about by closure.

The project will ask: “What participatory processes contribute to a smooth transition to a post-mining future? How can public participation contribute to a positive socio-economic legacy of mining?”

Undertaken as part of the Social Aspects of Mine Closure Research Consortium, this project will address these questions.

The SMI said: “Researchers found few studies documenting the specific application of participatory processes to mine closure. Even fewer provide analysis to glean broader insights beyond time- and context-specific details.”

This project was designed as an exploratory, desktop study to ascertain what is known and documented about participation in mine closure. It is intended to provide an overview of key principles and to function as a repository of case studies to support future research, according to the consortium members.

The ‘Government engagement: insights from three Australian states’ project sought to establish current state priorities for socially responsible mine closure and smooth regional post-mining transitions in the Australia state jurisdictions of New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia.

It concentrated on priorities that are not yet evident in legislation and cultivating state authorities’ interest in the work of the consortium, according to the SMI.

“The project aimed to: better understand current and emerging expectations and role of Australian governments in ensuring attention to social aspects of closure; identify government strategies for improving the ‘afterlife’ for mining communities and regions; articulate regulator roles in protecting the public good and ensuring a positive socio-economic legacy of mining; facilitate two-way communication between the consortium and governments and identifying ways for government departments to connect to the consortium’s work.”

The project, ‘Mining as a temporary land use: industry-led transitions and repurposing’, showed that post-mining land use and associated economies have become a priority issue in mine lifecycle planning.
This scoping project starts from the position that reconceptualising mine ‘closure’ may enhance the industry’s contribution to sustainable development, the SMI said. It reframes mining as a “temporary land use”.

“The primary focus of this research is on identifying examples of post-mining repurposing of land and related economic transitions that are being led by industry,” the SMI said. “Transitions led by state or other actors (eg civil society groups) provide additional inspiration for industry-led opportunities. Our findings provide an initial repository of cases that different parties can refer to in making decisions about post-mining futures.”

Lastly, the ‘Social aspects of mine closure: governance & regulation’ project extends previous CSRM work on closure regulation and closure bonds.

The project partners reviewed mining regulations across 10 jurisdictions around the world, with the objective being to build a knowledge base of how regulators are approaching social aspects of closure. This involved collating, organising, and characterising over 40 acts, regulations, and policy documents.

“We found that no jurisdiction had passed regulation specific to social aspects of closure and all tended to focus on biophysical aspects of closure,” the SMI said. “Social aspects of mining received attention in relation to approvals, but not generally for closure.”

The evidence gathered in this project can be mobilised to support subsequent work, according to the partners, who suggested a collaboration between industry, government, and other stakeholders to develop model regulations that account for a variety of perspectives and reflect realistic operational parameters.

You can find out more about the projects by clicking here.

Mine electrification hinged on reskilling, collaboration and mine design, EY says

A recent survey of miners and mining original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) has shown that electrification of mines offers a lot more than lower carbon emissions and improved worker benefits.

The survey, commissioned by EY and conducted by the Sustainable Minerals Institute at The University of Queensland (Australia) and The Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering at The University of British Columbia (Canada), deduced that reaping the full benefits of an electricity-powered mining future would require “reskilling, reaching out across sectors and rethinking the fundamentals of mine design”, EY said.

Paul Mitchell, EY Global Mining and Metals Leader, said the mining sector was on the verge of an electrification revolution, driven by significant cost reduction potential, lowered carbon emissions and improved worker health benefits.

“This is critically important, given the World Health Organisation has declared that diesel particulates now belong in the same deadly category as asbestos, arsenic and mustard gas,” he said.

Four key themes emerged from the survey, according to EY.

  • Electrified mines improve economics and strengthen licence to operate;
  • Collaboration will unlock better electrification solutions;
  • Mine design needs a rethink to build in optionality for future innovation, and;
  • Electrification needs different skills, and advances technology deployment.

EY explained these four in more detail:

“Demand for carbon reduction in the sector is inevitable, and electrification is one way to achieve it,” the company said. “Diesel engines cannot be replaced with carbon-generating electricity and therefore electrification needs to be accompanied with a move to renewable power.

“The survey finds that electrification reduces not only operational costs, but also up-front capital costs because it reduces the infrastructure needs of ventilation shafts in underground mines. More significantly, the reduction of diesel particulates results in improvement to worker health and safety.”

Partnerships and co-creation of solutions with OEMs, other mining companies and governments are needed to successfully integrate electrification in mines, according to EY.

“The survey finds that, in the case of electrification, miners are clear that they can’t go it alone. This is leading to a more open perspective around the role of suppliers as strategic partners, which expands the possibilities for miners to benefit through innovation, cost reduction and competitive advantage.”

Newmont Goldcorp has taken such an approach at its Borden gold project, in Ontario, Canada – partnering with Sandvik and MacLean Engineering on developing what it says will be the world’s first all-electric underground mine – while Nouveau Monde Graphite has built up a taskforce of its own to progress its plans for an all-electric open-pit graphite mine in Quebec, Canada.

In terms of mine design, decoupling mines from diesel is not an easy task. This is due to the diverse range of technical and financial challenges in mining various deposits.

EY said: “Getting full value out of electrification requires a thorough consideration and understanding of the technology road map, in parallel with the strategic plan for the mine. The survey highlights the need for a phased implementation with a flexible design that provides for technology improvements of the future.”

And, lastly, mine electrification will require different worker skills as it enables other advanced technologies, requiring less maintenance and human intervention, according to EY.

“Analysis of the survey findings reveals there will be increasing demand for data and digital literacy skills across all phases of the mining value chain, as the human-to-machine interface evolves and becomes more prevalent,” the company said. “In developing economies, this means challenging the assumption that a mine provides employment only for people doing physical labour.”

Mitchell added: “It is important to start thinking about building agility into mine design to leverage the potential benefits in asset flexibility, lower ventilation requirements and the human footprint.

“The future of electrification in mines requires a paradigm shift in thinking – from existing known and proven technologies to new emerging technologies. We must realise that the challenges of the sector can be solved faster by collaboration – and a robust strategy, underpinned by gaining the right capabilities and an agile approach, is critical.”

Major miners join Mining3 and SMI for Cave Mining 2040

Mining3 and the University of Queensland’s Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI) have joined forces with Newcrest Mining, Vale, OZ Minerals, BHP and PT Merdeka Copper Gold to develop the Cave Mining 2040 initiative.

Cave Mining 2040 was originally proposed by Professor Gideon Chitombo (SMI) whose clear understanding of caving needs and his strong engagement with the mining industry was key to its successful formation, according to Mining3.

The international consortium will collaborate on projects aimed at developing new and improved cave mining methods that could help meet future demand for minerals, the company added.

Mining3’s CEO Paul Lever said: “Involving researchers, industry and government will accelerate the required innovations and information to transform cave mining, ensuring its longevity through viable and sustainable methods.”

Cave Mining 2040 aims to develop solutions to reduce lead times and capital investment while also improving viability, safety, cost, production, and societal and environmental acceptance, according to Mining 3.

SMI Director, Professor Neville Plint, said the agreement was important because it brings together two Queensland-based, world-class research organisations. “We are working collaboratively with industry to unlock complex orebodies that occur at depth and require advancements in cave mining technologies,” he said.

“We look forward to developing further partnerships to enhance Queensland’s and Australia’s reputation as a leader in research, technology and innovation.”

After initial consultation with established and future mine owners, mining equipment and technology services, original equipment manufacturers, and a range of other organisations a number of cave mining challenges have been identified.

The first phase of Cave Mining 2040, Horizon 1, is now underway comprising eight research areas – total deposit knowledge, cave engineering, cave establishment, mine design for new and emerging technologies, high stresses and major seismicity, macro-block design and sequencing optimisation, sublevel caving and open automation platform.

Cave Mining 2040 is a cornerstone activity within the Transforming Cave Mining initiative – a partnership between Mining3 and the SMI.

Newcrest looks to University of Queensland to help achieve sustainable mining goals

The University of Queensland (UQ) and leading gold miner Newcrest Mining have agreed a new initiative providing funding for eight new PhD research projects at the institution.

The aim is to develop interconnected and systems-based solutions to transform the sustainability performance of mining operations, UQ said.

The opportunities will be targeted at high-calibre graduates from a range of disciplines including mining, chemical and civil engineering, as well as business and social science areas.

UQ Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research Partnerships, Professor Mohan Krishnamoorthy (pictured on the left), said: “The alliance with Newcrest represents a strategic opportunity to co-develop the cutting-edge innovation necessary for a sustainable mining future.”

Newcrest Mining Head of Technology and Innovation, and UQ alumnus, Andrew Logan, said research into complex mining challenges was essential to sustainably produce the minerals needed for modern living.

“Newcrest relies on innovation to unlock complex orebodies and academic research, with practical outcomes, provides industry with the necessary understanding for sustainable and safe mineral development,” he said.

The students will be supported for four years by both organisations and work on inter-related projects focused on specifically identified mining challenges.

UQ staff from the Sustainable Minerals Institute and other faculties will work with Newcrest to support the group through additional development activities. As part of the funding arrangements Newcrest will offer competitive top-up scholarships and provide opportunities for on-the-ground experience in Newcrest operations and corporate offices.

This funding announcement is part of a five-year partnership agreement signed between UQ and Newcrest Mining in August.