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Innovation – The Salvation of the Mining Sector

With the worldwide minerals market in the doldrums, Queensland’s resources sector needs to smarten up. It’s not just about digging bigger holes, but digging bigger holes in better places; extracting more commodities with less expenditure; and manufacturing more with less links in the supply chain.

At the same time the mining sector has to carefully maintain its social license to operate. Budget savings that come at the expense of safety, the environment or local communities, are not savings at all, and will cost the company dearly in the long-run.

In this edition of Queensland Mining and Energy Bulletin we take a look at the latest innovations set to change the face of resources extraction across the world.

Information Technology

Five trends that will shape the future of ERP By Rob Stummer, Managing Director, IFS Australia and New Zealand 


Businesses today are required to deal with technological advancements occurring at a pace never experienced before. What’s more, trends like the consumerisation of IT have lessened the CIO’s ability to regulate which technologies are used alongside the corporate network.

As trends like Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) continue to make an impact, it’s important that the IT department embraces new technologies for a number of reasons. Aside from missing out on any potential benefits, being too proscriptive regarding the technology employees can use risks the emergence of shadow IT; when IT solutions are built or adopted without explicit organisational approval.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) in particular has a lot to gain from adopting an open approach to new innovations.

Here are the five technology trends that I believe have the potential to shape the future of ERP, if implemented correctly:

1. The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a concept that provides objects, such as cars and electrical appliances, with the capacity to transfer data over a network without requiring human interaction.

In the case of ERP, devices are available that can be attached to tools and even vehicles, feeding data back to applications hosted in the cloud. Information such as location, usage and performance can then be easily accessed, allowing organisations to identify issues like where unused assets are, or if maintenance is required.

2. Wearable technology
While much of the attention generated by wearables has focused on consumer propositions like fitness trackers, there are also a host of applications in the workplace. Augmented Reality enabled glasses like Google Glass will enable hands free operations which can be of great benefit for many blue collar workers. Even smart watches represent a step forward compared to PDAs and smartphones since they are more easily accessible and are less likely to be misplaced or dropped. Devices designed to monitor external factors like UV exposure or heat can help improve management of employee health.

3. Big data analytics
Organisations have become more dependent on IT and, as a result, they have accumulated a wealth of data that has been traditionally under-utilised. As the IoT connects tools and employees to the internet, this data generation is set to grow exponentially.

By employing analytical tools, organisations can begin to use this data to make accurate predictions that form the basis of a more intelligent approach to business strategy.

4. The age of context
With businesses increasingly operating in a multichannel world, using technology that understands the situation you’re in, what information you would like to see, and how you would like to see it, will begin to have a real impact on performance. PCs and mobile apps will increasingly integrate context aware functionality to anticipate user needs and improve the efficiency of day to day tasks.

For example, a field service engineer will automatically receive all the asset data, job instructions, customer relationship history as soon as they arrive at the repair site.

5. Opening business to innovation
Over the next few years, technology like wearables, the IoT and big data analytics stand to reinvent business processes across many different industry sectors. Organisations need to keep an eye on technological advances, even those that may seem to be irrelevant.

Recent developments have shown that solutions which first appeared to be designed for consumers are increasing finding profitable applications within businesses. By taking an innovative approach to the adoption of technology, businesses stand to save time and increase productivity; results that will be reflected in the bottom line of enterprises that choose to embrace new technologies.


Amino acids key to new gold leaching process By Geoff Vivian


Curtin University scientists have developed a gold and copper extraction process using an amino acid–hydrogen peroxide system, which could provide an environmentally friendly and cheaper alternative to conventional methods.

Professor Jacques Eksteen says this process should make many low-grade copper-gold leases throughout WA commercially viable.

Using the amino acid glycine to extract gold, he says, has many advantages over the traditional cyanide and sulphuric acid treatments.

“It’s a bulk chemical, it’s affordable and it’s benign,” Prof Eksteen says.

“It forms a stable soluble complex with gold, which is soluble in water.”

He says technical-grade glycine is cheaper than cyanide and available in roughly the same quantities.

It can also be used in a similar manner to existing gold refining processes such as carbon-in-leach and carbon-in-pulp.

“In normal gold leaching you would leach with cyanide and then absorb the gold cyanide on to a carbonate leach carbon-in-pulp.

“You do something similar with glycine, it forms a gold-glycinate complex and then absorbs onto carbon and then it lends itself to a similar way of thinking.”

He says it also eliminates toxic waste-disposal problems.

“It offers that opportunity to recover and the net cost is fairly low because you can actually reuse it to re-leach if you recover it,” he says.

The technology can be used to more easily extract gold from poly-metallic ores, such as copper-gold ores, by staging the extractions.

Amino acids dissolve copper at room temperature, but need to be heated to 40-50 degrees to dissolve gold.

Prof Eksteen says in sufficiently warm underground environments the process would be applicable to solution mining, where solvents are injected into an ore body and recovered along with the gold from a central bore.

He also recommends it for future in-situ heap leach extraction projects, a process that is expected to make mining low-grade deposits in remote locations more viable.

Being an alkaline compound, he says it is well suited to extracting gold in alkaline ores such as dolomite, unlike sulphuric acid.

Ores treated in this way require no milling, a major energy consumer.

Prof Eksteen says glycine is manufactured from by-products of the natural gas industry.

“You have other amino acids which are even more selective and more powerful dissolvers of gold compared to glycine, but they are much more expensive, much more exotic,” he says.

Many countries produce it, lessening the risk of any political interference with commercial supply.

It will be at least three years before the process could be used on a commercial scale. Curtin University has applied to patent the process.


On-site cyanide wins international award

A Queensland invention, which enables on-site production of cyanide used in mining, was announced the overall winner of the 2014 Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) Global Awards 2014 in November in London.

The University of Queensland in collaboration with Australian-based Synergen Met Pty Ltd, beat over 60 other entries to the Overall Award for Outstanding Achievement in Chemical and Process Engineering in 2014 for their process plant that manufactures cyanide on location at the mine site.

The development reduces costs by up to 50 per cent and avoids the need to transport, store and handle large volumes of hazardous solid and liquid sodium cyanide.

In addition to collecting the top prize, the Synergen Met and UQ entry, called “Modular
On-site Cyanide Production Unit”, was also presented with the Core Chemical Engineering Award.

Cyanide, and the process of cyanidation, is the most efficient method for extracting gold and silver from low grade ore. However, it is highly toxic and its manufacture, transport and handling pose major safety and environmental challenges.

Christopher Dunks, managing director at Synergen Met Pty Ltd, said: “This award validates the importance of our site based cyanide production unit and the paradigm shift it generates for the supply of cyanide to the global mining community.

“It also validates the important impact it will have on communities affected by mines and the impact of removing cyanide from transport networks.”


Better prediction of mine and other collapse

University of Adelaide engineering researchers are investigating ways to better predict the possible collapse of mines, dam embankments and large infrastructure sites.

The four-year project aims to improve understanding and develop practical formulas to help engineers connect what’s happening in the soil, rocks and concrete at micro-level with largescale factors that trigger collapse. The project is led by Dr Giang Nguyen, new Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow in the University’s School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering.

“There are many cases around the world where we’ve seen catastrophic failure and collapse at underground mine sites, dams and other embankments with huge losses in terms of people’s lives and property,” says Dr Nguyen.

“It’s very hard to predict the effect of a natural disaster or failure in infrastructure.

“All we can do as engineers or researchers to ensure the optimal stability is to do laboratory tests on small specimens taken from the site and
use this analysis to project what might happen on a larger scale.

“But there are obviously different behaviours between small specimens of 10cm3 then for large structures of 100m3 or more.”

Dr Nguyen says these “scaling issues” have resulted in inaccurate prediction, including the collapse of Malpasset Dam in France in 1959, and the Sleipner A oil platform in Norway in 1991, partly due to the wrong scaling of material properties.

“We need to come up with a method for better prediction that can properly link failures at the micro-scale, specimen scale and large (field) scale,” he says.

By the end of the research Dr Nguyen hopes to translate research results into simple practical formulas that could be easily used by an engineer.

“This would transform the understanding of material property scaling into a predictive tool for engineering analysis, helping to obtain more cost effective designs with greater confidence in safety” Dr Nguyen says.


Australian crystals set to take over industry

Caption_-Dr-Mathew-Hill_-Photo-credit-WildBearForty per cent of the energy consumed by industry is used to separate things – in natural gas production, mineral processing, food production and pollution control. The list is endless. Each offers an application for a new breed of crystal developed by Dr Matthew Hill and his team at CSIRO.

Dr Hill, Australian Research Council Future Fellow and leader of the Integrated Nanoporous Materials team at CSIRO, has demonstrated that the space inside metal–organic frameworks (MOFs)—the world’s most porous materials—can be used as an efficient and long-lasting filter.

By choosing different combinations of metals and plastics, Dr Hill’s CSIRO team can make a wide range of customised crystals. Then, using antimatter and synchrotron light, they map the internal pores, determine what each crystal can do, and explore potential applications.

First cab off the rank is natural gas separation. Dr Hill’s team has developed a membrane embedded with crystals that efficiently separates natural gas from contaminants and lasts much longer than traditional membranes. He’s working with gas companies to develop the patented technology that could replace the multistorey processing plants found on gas fields with smaller truck-sized systems.

Patented applications for the food industry are also in the works. And further down the track are: carbon dioxide scrubbers; safe, compact storage systems for gas and hydrogen; and even crystals that could deliver drugs or fertilisers on demand.

For his work on the development of metal–organic frameworks for practical industrial application, Dr Hill was awarded the 2014 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year.


3D mapping technology reduces waste and operating costs


During the latter half of 2014, Rio Tinto launched the latest instalment in their Mine of the Future™ program aimed at increasing efficiency in operations.

Rio’s new revolutionary three-dimensional mapping technology has been designed to reduce costs and improve the efficiency of mining operations.

The RTVis™ 3D software precisely identifies the size, location and quality of ore in real time by retrieving data from automated trucks and drills operating in its mines.

The software provides pinpoint accurate mapping which improves efficiency of mining activity by ensuring it is tightly focused on removing high value ore, significantly reducing both waste and operational costs.

RTVis™ creates 3D images of mine pit activities that previously could not be measured. RTVis™ has led to greater ore recovery through sharper boundary identification, more accurate drill blasting, reduced explosives, improved waste classification and enhanced dig rates.

Rio Tinto head of innovation John McGagh said “This technology allows us to quickly
and easily view, compare and evaluate data to paint a picture of what’s under the ground – it’s like an ultrasound image of the deposit delivered in real time, something that we could never do before.

“RTVis™ is a low-cost application that complements existing group-wide data technology in a way previously never available to enhance our mining operations. It quickly brings information to a much broader audience – from a single operator in the field to an expert team in the Rio Tinto Operations Centre in Perth.

“Armed with this detailed information, our operations to recover the ore bodies will be significantly more efficient and effective.”

The new 3D technology is deployed at Rio Tinto’s West Angelas iron ore mine in Western Australia and trials are also underway in other Rio Tinto product groups including Copper, Energy and Diamonds and Minerals.

RTVis™ also provides rapid feedback on the impact to equipment while another important benefit is in the area of mine planning, providing much more certainty about the nature of the ore deposit at an earlier stage of the process.


Brightest brains to help uncover new mineral resources 


In a move that could revolutionise the way we search for resources in Australia, a team of the nation’s best scientists have been charged with improving the diminishing success rates of minerals exploration.

Focusing on the potentially lucrative Capricorn region of Western Australia, a $16 million project underway with CSIRO, Curtin University and The University of Western Australia seeks to develop a new way of discovering mineral deposits in the area.

“The Distal Footprints project is about addressing the fundamental limitations to mineral discovery,” said Graeme Hunt, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Transfield Services and Chair of the National Resource Sciences Precinct.

“Although there are potentially huge mineral deposits under its thick surface, the Capricorn region is a poorly explored and poorly understood area. By bringing together some of the best scientists in Australia, the project will tackle some of the technical risks and help industry to unlock this vast potential resource.”

Searching for underground resources is complex and expensive. Australia in particular has a unique geological makeup with a blanket of cover built up over millions of years making it difficult to detect deposits and therefore develop new mine sites.

“The project will deliver new data, interpretations, understanding and technologies to help discover mineral wealth in regions that until now have been difficult to explore” said Mr Hunt.

This ground-breaking approach to exploration aims to expand the search area used to identify the markers that point to large mineral deposits.

“We will be able to arm industry with the information they need to discover if resources are nearby, and in what direction and how deep they are.

“Distal Footprints are signatures we might expect to find around an ore deposit from distances of up to several tens of kilometres” said Mr Hunt.

The new capability will increase exploration certainty in Australia making it an attractive destination for investment, ensuring that the resources sector remains globally competitive.

The project is supported by funding awarded under the Federal Government’s Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF), as well as contributions from the WA Government’s Minerals Research Institute of Western Australia, industry, the Geological Survey of Western Australia and the National Resource Sciences.


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