Tag Archives: Vale

Olitek on a mechanisation mission to provide mine safety step change

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

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

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

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

Crowdey, a blasting consultant, offers direct experience here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OMR is addressing this market gap.

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

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

The metric for momentum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving up a level

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The inspiration

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vale adapts iron ore processing route to make sand product for construction sector

After seven years of research and investment of about BRL50 million ($8.9 million), Vale says it has developed a process for producing sand from its production processes with applications in the construction market.

After adaptation in the state of Minas Gerais’ iron ore operations, the sandy material, previously disposed in piles and dams, is now being processed and transformed into a product, following the same quality controls used in the production of iron ore. This year, around 250,000 t of sand has been processed and destined for sale or donation to be used in concrete, mortar, cement and road pavement.

According to Marcello Spinelli, Vale’s Executive Vice President for Iron Ore, the development of this product is the result of more sustainable operating practices.

“This action promotes a circular economy within our units and reduces the impact of tailings disposal for the environment and the society, in addition to being a reliable alternative for the construction industry, where the demand for sand is high,” he said.

Sustainable sand stock yard at Brucutu

Vale’s Sustainable Sand is considered a co-product of the iron ore production process. The material extracted in the form of rocks undergoes several physical processes in the plant, such as crushing, classification, grinding and concentration, until iron ore is obtained.

The innovation introduced by Vale lies in the concentration stage where the by-product of the iron ore processing is once more processed until it reaches the necessary quality to become sand for commercial use. In the traditional method, this material would become tailings and be destined to dams or piles. Every tonne of sand produced represents one less tonne of tailings being generated.

The sand resulting from the iron ore treatment is a 100% certified product, with high silica content and very low iron content, in addition to high chemical and granulometric uniformity.

According to Jefferson Corraide, Executive Manager of the Brucutu and Água Limpa Complex, the sand does not have hazardous characteristics in its composition.

“The mineral processing to obtain the sand is essentially physical, not altering the composition of the materials, so the product is not toxic,” Corraide said.

Recently, Vale’s sand had its application in concrete and mortar certified by three specialised laboratories in Brazil: Instituto de Pesquisas Tecnológicas, Falcão Bauer and ConsultareLabCon.

The properties of Vale sand are also being analysed by an independent study conducted by researchers from the University of Queensland’s Sustainable Minerals Institute (Australia) and the University of Geneva (Switzerland), who are investigating whether alternative construction materials produced from mineral ores could become a sustainable source of sand while significantly reducing the volume of waste produced by mining. These researchers introduced the term “ore sand” to refer to this type of processed sand sourced as a co-product or by-product of mineral ores.

Precast concrete produced with Vale’s Sustainable Sand

Production scale

Vale has already committed to allocating more than 1 Mt of sand for sale or donation in 2022. Buyers are companies operating in four different regions in Brazil: Minas Gerais, Espírito Santo, São Paulo and Brasília. It is estimated that, in 2023, production will reach 2 Mt.

Rogério Nogueira, Director of Ferrous Marketing, explained: “We are getting ready to scale up the sand destination even more from 2023. For this purpose, we have a team of professionals dedicated to this new business and adapting our operations to meet the market needs.”

Currently, Vale is producing sand for sale and donation at the Brucutu Mine, in São Gonçalo do Rio Abaixo (Minas Gerais).

Other mines of the company, also located in Minas Gerais, are in the process of obtaining environmental and mining approvals for sand production.

André Vilhena, Manager of New Businesses at Vale, said: “Our mines provide a sandy material that is rich in silica, which can be used in different industries. We are working with several institutions, including universities, research centres and Brazilian and foreign companies, to develop new solutions to give new destinations to iron ore tailings.”

In addition to using the existing infrastructure in the iron ore mines, Vale also has a railway and road network to transport the sand to markets in several Brazilian states. “With this activity, our main focus is on the sustainability of our iron ore operations, minimising the environmental liabilities, in addition to seeking to promote employment and income by means of new businesses,” Vilhena said.

Eco products

Vale has been carrying out tailings application studies since 2014. Last year, the company inaugurated the Pico Block Factory, the first pilot plant for construction products whose main raw material is tailings from mining activity. Installed at the Pico Mine, in the municipality of Itabirito (Minas Gerais), the factory promotes a circular economy in iron ore processing operation.

The Federal Center for Technological Education of Minas Gerais (CEFET-MG) provides technical cooperation with the Block Factory. Ten researchers from the institution are working on site during this period, including professors, laboratory technicians and graduates, undergraduates and technical course students. During the R&D period, the products will not be sold.

Another research initiative aims to develop the use of sand in pavement solutions in partnership with Itabira’s campus of the Federal University of Itajubá (Unifei). The focus is on the donation of sand for the pavement of local roads.

More sustainable mining

In addition to the Eco products line, Vale has other initiatives to make its mining more sustainable and reduce the generation of tailings. The company has been developing technology to increase the dry processing of its ores, which does not require the use of water. Currently, around 70% of Vale’s production is dry processed and this shall remain at this level when the production capacity of 400 Mt/y is reached and after the start-up of new projects. In 2015, this figure was 40%.

In Carajás, as the iron content is already high (above 65% Fe), the material is only crushed and screened to be classified by size (granulometry).

In Minas Gerais, in some mines, the average content is 40% Fe. By the conventional method, the ore is concentrated by means of processing with water to increase the iron content, with most of the tailings deposited in dams or pits. This is where another technology under implementation at Vale stands out: FDMS (Fines Dry Magnetic Separation). This technology sees the magnetic concentration of ores of low iron grade with no use of water, and therefore, with no need for dams.

Developed in Brazil by New Steel, a company acquired by Vale in 2018, this technology is already in use in a pilot plant in Minas Gerais. In 2023, the first commercial plant will start up in Vargem Grande, with a production capacity of 1.5 Mt/y and investment of up to $150 million.

Another technology which reduces the need of dams is tailings filtration and subsequent dry piling. Once the capacity of 400 Mt/y is reached, more than 60 Mt/y (or 15% of this total) will be processed in plants, where most of the tailings will be filtered and piled this way.

Vale has already opened a filtration plant in Vargem Grande and three more will be commissioned in the March quarter of 2022: one in Brucutu and two in Itabira. Only 15% of the production will continue to be processed by the conventional method, with wet concentration and disposal in dams or deactivated mine pits.

Vale ponders investment in China Baowu’s pilot biochar plant project as part of Scope 3 emission targets

Vale says it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China Baowu Steel Group Corporation Ltd in which both companies agreed to pursue opportunities to develop steelmaking solutions focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The MoU comprises the discussion to produce biochar and use it in blast furnaces in order to consume a carbon-neutral material based on biomass instead of fossil energy. The MoU also intends to discuss a possible investment by Vale into China Baowu’s pilot biochar plant project, with an indicative amount ranging from CNY60-70 million ($9.4-10.9 million).

This initiative contributes to achieving Vale’s commitment to reduce 15% of net Scope 3 emissions by 2035. Additionally, Vale seeks to reduce its absolute Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 33% by 2030 and achieve neutrality by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement, leading the evolution process towards low carbon mining.

Vale and POSCO evaluating iron ore pellets, fines, briquettes place in low-carbon ironmaking

Vale has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with POSCO in which both agreed to pursue opportunities to develop ironmaking solutions focused on reducing CO2 emissions.

Vale and POSCO intend to develop solutions for decarbonisation in ironmaking and are under discussion to find the most suitable pathways by using Vale’s wide range of product portfolio, they said. This includes its high-grade iron ore products such as pellets, fines and briquettes, as a potential solution for reducing fossil fuel consumption and aim to help POSCO on its roadmap to reach carbon neutrality in its integrated steel production process by 2050.

Marcello Spinelli, Vale’s Executive Vice President, Iron Ore, and Hagdong Kim, POSCO’s Head of Steel Business Unit, attended the MoU virtual signing ceremony on November 4, 2021.

As per his speech, Spinelli said: “The decarbonisation pathway definition will be critical to set how the industry will meet Paris Agreement’s targets and deliver an important legacy to society and our planet. Vale is well positioned to lead the industry with our high-quality and world-class portfolio, and with innovative technologies.”

Kim added: “Both companies have the goal to achieve carbon net-zero by 2050, an important social responsibility that we must fulfil as members of society. Instead of trying alone, if we work together, we will create more synergy. By signing the MoU, I look forward to greater synergy between Vale and POSCO toward carbon neutrality.”

This initiative contributes to achieving Vale’s commitment to reduce 15% of net Scope 3 emissions by 2035. Additionally, Vale seeks to reduce its absolute Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 33% by 2030 and achieve neutrality by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement.

Teck, Kinross and Vale join Axora’s mining and metals digital transformation community

Axora says it has launched the world’s first digital transformation community for the energy and metals and mining sectors.

The Axora Community intends to connect industry innovators, share the latest market research on key digital trends and initiate thought-provoking debates to help solve some of the biggest challenges facing these industries today, Axora said.

“Professionals in these two sectors face some of the world’s most dangerous environments while having to safely satisfy production demand and hit sustainability targets,” Ritz Steytler, CEO of Axora (pictured), said at the launch event in London last night. “By harnessing digital innovation, paired with knowledge sharing and collaboration, industry leaders can ensure worker safety, reduce environmental impact, and improve return on investment. That’s why we started the Axora Community.”

Axora’s two recent reports, ‘Innovation Forecast: Mining and Metals’ and ‘Innovation Forecast: Energy’, revealed that 99% of senior decision makers at energy and metals and mining firms across the world needed a global digital transformation community.

The Axora Community will include metals and mining, and energy industry professionals as well as technology providers, associations and academics. It has been set up with the help of 10 founder members and senior professionals from leading companies including Teck Resources, Kinross Gold, Vale and ArcelorMittal Europe.

Peter Stegmaier, Founding Member, Axora Community and Chairman, CLQ Global, said: “The energy and mining sectors have embraced digital transformation for some time, but there is still much room for improvement to ensure they fully realise the benefits of key growth drivers like artificial intelligence, advanced analytics and automation.

“For the first time, industry innovators will have a forum for information on digital solutions, can gain insights into how other industries are tackling similar challenges and learn best practice from their peers.”

The Axora Community intends to host exclusive webinars, invite-only roundtables, and access to live Q&A sessions with industry experts around the world. It will initially focus on the metals and mining sector and will expand to cover the energy sector at the end of this year.

Axora calls itself the digital solutions marketplace for industrial innovators, offering industrial companies a service to discover, buy and sell digital innovations for improved safety, sustainability and efficiency across their operations.

Vale and Jiangsu Shagang target low-carbon steel production route

Vale says it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Jiangsu Shagang Group Co Ltd in which both agree to pursue opportunities to develop steelmaking solutions focused on reducing CO2 emissions.

Vale and Jiangsu Shagang intend to develop economic feasibility studies of (i) usage of products with a lower carbon footprint in ironmaking process, as high-grade iron ore products; and (ii) cooperation on “Tecnored” plants, Vale said.

This initiative contributes to achieving Vale’s commitment to reduce net Scope 3 emissions by 15% by 2035, it said.

Additionally, Vale seeks to reduce its absolute Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 33% by 2030 and achieve neutrality by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement.

Tecnored is a 100% Vale subsidiary focused on developing a low carbon pig iron process through the use of energy sources, such as biomass and syn-gas, that emit less CO2 than the coal and coke the tradition iron-making processes use. Using biomass, the path to economic carbon neutrality may be achieved in the medium term.

Jiangsu Shagang is a Chinese steel producer and service supplier. It has five production sites, which are mainly located in Jiangsu, Liaoning and Henan Provinces.

 

Miners need flexible solutions to meet decarbonisation goals, Worley’s Russell says

The unique challenges the mining industry will face over its 30-year journey to decarbonisation are still being unpacked as it decides how to use enabling technologies and solutions, according to Nicholas Russell, Senior Mechanical & Mining Engineer at Worley.

“The journey to net-zero requires flexibility,” he said. “And we need to incorporate that flexibility from the very beginning.”

This, according to Russell, has seen an increased focus on collaborative solutions across the mining value chain, including the re-emergence of 70-year-old technology.

In-pit crushing and conveying (IPCC) works by crushing ore and waste material in an open-pit and using conveyors to transport the material to the process plant and waste dumps respectively.

While IPCC is not new, miners often associate it with rigid, inflexible mine plans that struggle to meet changing market demands, he said. “However, an IPCC system is no longer just a fixed asset. Flexibility and sustainability in operations is possible through design innovation, tailored equipment specification and automation.”

One of the new ways that IPCC can be implemented is by using a combination of relocatable and mobile conveyors in tandem with a mobile, truckless system. This sees a shovel dumps material into a moveable sizing rig that loads the automated conveyor fleet.

“Much like irrigation sprinkler machines, the system operates in parallel, or pivot, and a combination of different length hoses and pipes connect it back to a fixed point, which in this case is the process plant,” Russell said. “By increasing the reach of the system, multiple combinations of bench level, mine direction and pass widths can be considered and optimised.”

In one study, an overburden truck fleet that moved material from the mine face to the top of the in-pit dump was replaced with an IPCC system. The haulage energy was reduced by 63% and 3.5 Olympic swimming pools of diesel each year could be replaced with renewables for each shovel swapped over, according to Russell.

Providing flexibility for minimum viable projects

Alternatively, as the mine face moves, a relocatable IPCC system can move with it.

“Trucks powered by renewables complete small distances to a crusher which is moved periodically, with conveyors used for the rest of the journey to the plant,” Russell explained. “While both options give the flexibility to change mining locations, this option provides the energy efficiency and cost-effectiveness of conveyors while benefiting from the flexibility of a truck system.”

Flexibility is especially useful for miners establishing sites with “minimum viable capital”, according to Russell.

“Miners can start with a small truck fleet and minimum fixed plant, relocating the crusher and conveyor as and when required,” he explained. “This is a key advantage because it helps achieve project specific goals through different mine sequences to enhance an operation’s sustainability.”

Powering mines with renewable energy

Powered by electricity ‘from the grid’, IPCC can be an energy efficient option for miners. It gives miners the flexibility to choose renewables to power their site, including the energy used for the mass material movement from the mine face to the process plant and waste dump.

Worley and its consulting business, Advisian, has helped a number of mining companies assess and develop green energy supply partnerships, Russell explained.

This has included the analysis, assessment and guided procurement of Gold Fields’ Agnew Hybrid Renewable Energy Microgrid, which included 18 MW wind, 4 MW solar, 13 MW/4 MWh battery and 21 MW gas/diesel. As the largest hybrid renewable energy microgrid in Australia, it has the capacity to provide the mine with up to 85% renewable energy, with reliability in excess of 99.99%, Worley said.

Enhancing an IPCC system with bulk ore sorting technology

Nicholas Russell, Senior Mechanical & Mining Engineer at Worley

“As miners seek to get more from less, IPCC can be enhanced with ore sorting mineral sensing technology supplied by NextOre,” Russell said.

NextOre, a joint venture between the CSIRO, RFC Ambrian and Worley, is a bulk ore sorting technology that allows miners to sort and evaluate ore at high capacity, maximising recovery and delivering higher grade and lower tonnage mill feed, he explained.

“It can be easily retrofitted to IPCC conveyors, and measure everything on the belt,” he added. “The option also exists to increase grade while maintaining throughput on existing systems, maximising metal recovery through the entire system assuming upstream and downstream facilities can be de-bottlenecked.”

By improving sorting efficiency, and processing a better material grade, water and electricity consumption per tonne of ore mined is reduced, while the data from the sorting process can be used to learn more about what is coming out of the ground as it’s mined, with assumptions verified in real time.

IPCC in action

One of the world’s largest iron ore mines in Brazil, S11D (pictured, photo courtesy of Vale), is a notable example of how new IPCC technology is enhancing sustainability and protecting people and the environment.

For this project, Worley proposed a truckless mine – “the first of its kind”, Russell said.

The system uses mobile crushers and conveyor belts to replace traditional trucks, consequently reducing diesel consumption by approximately 70%, according to mine owner Vale. The system also allows the miner to process waste in existing industrial areas, moving it away from environmentally sensitive ones to further reduce the project’s environmental impact.

“In designing the project, the team’s biggest challenge was not only rethinking the mine plan and how the technology could be used on the site, but also re-evaluating the role people play in executing the concept,” Russell said. “It’s critical to re-educate technicians and engineers to equip them with the skills needed to work with these technologies safely.”

Russell believes technologies like IPCC will help miners meet their decarbonisation commitments, however no individual technology can solve the challenge.

“To focus solely on the benefits of the equipment and disregard the mine demands is a short-term solution to a long-term challenge,” he said. “If miners are to meet sustainability goals, they need flexibility, collaboration and a holistic approach to implementing new technology that starts at the mine plan.”

Nick Russell is due to speak at IM Event’s IPCC 2022 event in Mexico, on April 28-29, 2022, presenting a paper titled: ‘Fully mobile IPCC/truckless mining: lessons learnt’. Click here for more information on the event.

TOMRA on achieving mining’s ‘circular economy’

TOMRA, a global leader in sensor-based technologies, says it understands that technology alone is not enough to create a closed-loop circular economy, with public policy, consumer engagement and collaboration across the value chain are necessary too.

Making the shift from “linear to circular” to build thriving economies requires radically lessening the environmental impact of extracting raw materials, reducing the use of primary resources, designing waste-free products, harnessing materials to keep them in use and implementing technologies to ensure the system is regenerative.

ReSociety

TOMRA says it is well positioned to contribute to the transition to a circular economy by collaborating with key players across the value chain to develop new methods, processes, technologies and business models.

To this end, it has created ReSociety, a global collaborative initiative to re-think, re-act and re-start our world for a more sustainable future.

“It is a place for industry, policy makers, companies and consumers to share ideas, increase awareness, collaborate with solution enablers and drive impactful change,” the company says. “It is also a hub in which TOMRA proactively shares its vast research and multi-national studies on holistic waste management systems, which have been indispensable in developing the circular value chains.”

Dr Volker Rehrmann, Head of Circular Economy, TOMRA, says: “Our commitment to the circular economy is unequivocal. Until recently, it was unheard of having players from the entire value chain at one table. From chemical companies to converters, retailers and brand owners, waste management companies and recyclers – there’s true dedication in finding solutions. We take pride in doing our part: sharing our know-how, developing new solutions and striving to make our planet more sustainable every day.”

Dr Volker Rehrmann, Head of Circular Economy, TOMRA

Dr Rehrmann says the company is aiming to build on the experience it developed in recycling and collaborate with the mining industry to reduce the environmental impact of its operations.

“This means finding green mining solutions that use less energy and water to recover resources – with a consequent reduction in CO2 emissions – and ways to turn waste into value,” he says.

“With the recycling sector, we are working on reducing the mountains of plastic waste; we want to do the same in mining and address the dumps and tailings building up in mines.”

Advanced mining tech with a small environmental footprint

As the world addresses the environmental challenges of our time, the mining industry has an important contribution to make. Mining companies need to find ways to maximise the efficiency of their operations to cut back on the use of water and other resources, while reducing waste and the total impact on the environment as much as possible. Amongst other challenges, they need to effectively address the storage and handling of tailings which pose a potential physical and chemical environmental risk.

TOMRA’s advanced sensor-based sorting technologies can not only significantly reduce the environmental impact of mining operations and, at completion, fully rehabilitate the site. They also enable a much more efficient use of resources. These solutions bring the dual benefits of greater sustainability and better profitability for the mining company.

TOMRA’s sensor-based sorting technology has been shown to significantly reduce the amount of energy and water used compared with traditional methods like DMS (Dense Media Separation), while maximising the efficiency and recovery of valuable ores. An extensive study conducted by Alchemy Process Plants (AlcPro) comparing these processing methods concluded that TOMRA’s solution also brings multiple cost benefits.

AlcPro’s Erik Bruggink explains: “Although capital costs of the separation circuits are similar, with DMS, the additional cost of handling the resultant water from the circuit needs to be taken into consideration together with the associated water use licensing and tailings facilities. In addition, TOMRA’s sensor-based sorting technology requires no reagents, and maintenance costs are limited to the sorting unit and the associated conveyors, screens and chutes.”

Water consumption is a key consideration when assessing the environmental impact of a mine, as it can severely affect local supply. Water management strategies are integral to reducing the mine’s usage and ensure future water security for the communities in the mine’s surrounding areas. The Water Research Commission in South Africa commissioned a project to compile a compendium of best practices and technological innovations in the mining industry with regards to Water Conservation and Water Demand Management, with the study identifying TOMRA’s X-Ray Transmission (XRT) sorting technology as a solution that would lead to substantial improvements in water use efficiency.

José Guilherme Valadares, Project Coordinator of Exploration and Mineral Projects at Vale, says: “By reducing the mine’s water usage and fine-grained wastes, TOMRA’s sensor-based sorting technologies also contribute to improving the issue of wet tailings management and, with that, mitigate the risks associated with tailings dams.”

Vale is now investigating the implementation of sensor-based sorting in several mines and processes in Brazil, TOMRA says

Turning waste into value

TOMRA’s sensor-based sorting technology can contribute to circular economy practices at the mine and processing plant, turning marginal waste into value with a positive impact on both the sustainability and profitability of the operation. This is the case at Wolfram’s tungsten mine in Mittersill, Austria, where TOMRA has installed two COM Tertiary XRT sorters.

Alexander Mosser, Manager Ore Dressing Plant, explains: “The sorting system in the scheelite processing in Mittersill sorts out waste material with a size range of 16-60 mm. This eliminates the grinding and flotation that would otherwise be required for this material. This results in the following savings for the coarse waste material compared to grinding and flotation: 75% lower power consumption and no water and no flotation reagents are required. Another resource conservation: the separated waste is a saleable product to the local construction industry. The sewage ponds are relieved and the impact on nature through local gravel pits is reduced. The sorting system thus not only reduces the footprint of the mine but also of the surrounding gravel pits.”

Sustainability as a facilitator

The proven environmental benefits of TOMRA’s sensor-based sorting solutions bring mining operations additional advantages. They can facilitate obtaining the licences needed to start a mining project by proving the efficient use of water and energy, the significantly reduced amount of waste materials, chemicals/reagents, and lower environmental risks such as tailings dam collapse.

Rare earths mining company Cheetah Resources has obtained a loan from the Canadian Federal Government to purchase a TOMRA sorter for its Nechalacho Demonstration Project in Yellowknife, Canada, on the strength of the sustainable performance of its XRT technology, TOMRA says.

(Left to right) Jeremy Catholique, Mathew Edler and Clarance Pikes from the Nechalacho Demonstration Project team in Yellowknife

The sorting solution will significantly reduce the amount of water and fuel used and eliminate chemicals and tailings from the mining process. Leftover waste rock can be stockpiled for future use or used on infrastructure projects, such as road construction. The aim of the project is to create a low-impact facility for the production of rare earth minerals used in green technologies, which will generate employment and economic benefits in the region.

“We anticipate that, with this project, we will demonstrate the economic feasibility as well as the technical and environmental advantages of sensor-based sorting of rare earths to produce a value-added mixed rare earth concentrate in the Northwest Territories,” David Connelly, Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Strategy at Cheetah Resources, says.

The path to a more sustainable future starts today

Overcoming environmental pollution by enabling the transition to a circular economy is one of the central challenges of the 21st century. Mining has a key role to play as the supplier of the raw materials, but a holistic approach is necessary. Beyond efficient operation and waste management in extracting the primary resources, it is necessary to curtail excessive consumption and ensure products are designed to be reused, and, once at the end of life, easily recycled. Such a holistic approach also includes raising global awareness within the industries and with consumers.

Dr Mathilde Robben, Key Account Manager at TOMRA Sorting Mining, explains: “The raw materials supplied by mining are vital for our modern way of living and are critical for the energy transition technologies. With mining as the entry point for these necessary materials, the circle will never be closed completely. However, this should be seen as an opportunity for the mining industry to re-think the way it fulfils this essential role with minimal impact on the environment, and for sectors downstream to shift focus from the core business to the chain around it, without losing sight of profitability. Re-using can be prioritised by the use of certain metals that are infinitely recyclable and whose inherent durability and anti-corrosive properties contribute to the longevity of the products they are used in.”

Komatsu’s MC51 hard-rock cutting tech up and running at Vale’s Garson mine

Vale and Komatsu’s mechanical rock excavation (MRE) collaboration has moved into another gear, with the Komatsu MC51 machine featuring DynaCut mechanical cutting technology now operating underground at Vale’s Garson nickel mine in Sudbury, Canada, Vale’s Dino Otranto confirmed at MINExpo 2021, in Las Vegas, today.

Speaking at the ‘Creating value together: Special one-time presentation with Vale’ event on Monday, Otranto, Chief Operating Officer of North Atlantic Operations and Asian Refineries for Vale, said the machine was in operation, 2.5 km underground at Garson after recently being assembled.

The machine is scheduled to carry out a 1,400 m initial test run at the mine, according to Komatsu, with the exercise seen as a way to bring the technology to market quicker for Vale and other customers, Rudie Boshoff, Director of Hard Rock Cutting systems at Komatsu, said during the presentation.

Andy Charsley, a Principal Mining Engineer at Vale, says this trial is the largest hard-rock cutting trial Vale has ever committed to.

Through more than 10 years of research and development, Komatsu says it has determined how to break rock continuously and precisely through a fully electric system that outputs zero emissions. By automating and controlling processes so the machine can be operated remotely via line of site, Komatsu customers have the opportunity to move their operators further from the cutting face and from harm’s way leveraging DynaCut technology and the MC51 machine. DynaCut technology, which has previously been tested at Newcrest Mining’s Cadia underground mine in Australia, is billed as offering cutting accuracy of within 50 mm to plan.

Otranto says the partnership with Komatsu is the first step to “really prove and understand the technology, while meeting our high standards for safety”.

Last year, Charsley and colleague Luke Mahoney spoke to IM about this partnership, which is part of the mechanical cutting demonstration within the CMIC (Canada Mining Innovation Council) Continuous Underground Mining project.

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

Charsley says the integration of the MC51 with bolters, trucks, scoops and other equipment at the operating mine will be included within the company’s assessment of the technology.

Since announcing this collaboration, the South Australian Government has awarded a A$2 million grant to Hillgrove Resources to trial the new underground mining technology being progressed by Komatsu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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