Meet the highly anticipated new entity – Mining3 – the world’s largest, most advanced mining research powerhouse that’s set to deliver on the next generation of technologies for the industry. ADAM COURTENAY reports

Article from resourceful: Issue 10

A new world of mining research and innovation has arrived. Two global leaders in mining research with track records in delivering breakthrough technologies – CRCMining and CSIRO – have joined forces to create Mining3.

Headquartered in Brisbane, Australia, Mining3 will combine the experience and expertise of CRCMining and CSIRO into a single entity, fully engaged with industry.

CSIRO has strong capabilities in the areas of mechanical rock-cutting and drilling, automation and control, as well as in geological sensing and geophysics for mining.

Whereas, CRCMining's strengths relate more to mining automation, energy optimisation, asset performance, blasting, material transport optimisation, as well as mechanical excavation, drilling technologies, rock mass characterisations and machinerock interactions.

CSIRO will now conduct all its mineral (metalliferous) extraction research through Mining3 and bring to the party the capabilities of its formidable digital innovation arm, Data61.

Jonathan Law, Director of CSIRO Mineral Resources, says both organisations have had similar designs to develop technologies for commercial use, but until now, have operated largely independently of one another.

"Mining3 will have both the strategic direction of a national science agency with CSIRO and a very strong industry-focused group with CRCMining. We need both to give this venture the focus and scale it needs to be successful," he says.

Mr Law says that, in the past two years, momentum for the deal has grown by degrees. CRCMining transitioned to an industry-funded venture in mid-2014 and so a potential opportunity to integrate mining research was born.

Given the match with CSIRO's industry and government-backed research, the move for a unity ticket became progressively irresistible.

"You can't achieve impact without working with industry, and industry cannot prosper unless they sort out the technical issues facing traditional mining technologies as they battle to keep pace with commercial, social and environmental pressures," Mr Law says.

Mining3 will start with 13 industry members, including four multinational mining companies, four industry supply companies/manufacturers, four universities and CSIRO.

Its mining members are Anglo American, AngloGold Ashanti, Barrick Gold and Vale. The industry supply companies are Caterpillar, Joy Global, Sandvik and Komatsu. The research partners are CSIRO itself, Curtin University, the University of Queensland, The University of Newcastle and the Queensland University of Technology. As with CRCMining, Mining3 will be governed by a representative board, chosen from its members, and including independents. The board delegates responsibility for research to the research committee, which directs funding decisions and oversees research execution.

"We will continue to operate with committees, populated with our industry members and researchers who engage to make active decisions about the focus and allocation of funding for projects and how projects are being delivered and executed," Mining3's Chief Operating Officer Kevin Greenwood says.

"This will engage CSIRO projects into the same mechanism, with the same industry oversight. They get a depth of engagement from the industry in the research, with greater input from the end-users and potential commercialisation partners for the technologies."

Industry too, will be drawn into understanding the complexities and difficulties that go with research.

"They'll be involved along the entire journey. From the original thinking about the benefits through to the practicalities of testing on operations," he says.

Members will join and participate in Mining3 for a membership period (currently until 2022), which can be rolled over.

Mining3's Chief Executive Officer Professor Paul Lever says this will bring "a critical mass of commitment from the industry side".

"This strengthens their understanding of the innovation cycle – the positives and negatives and the process for innovation to occur."

Prof Lever says one of the mistakes of the past has been the ad hoc nature of research applications for industry. Often researchers come up with ideas for a new and exciting piece of technology and try to take them to the market.

"Sometime down the road a mining company buys it and uses it. The probability of success is often very small. That's not what this is about," he says.

Mining3 will use its long-term relationships with its members to ensure support for what receives funding from the pool of projects and ideas originating from Mining3. Without appropriate membership engagement, a project will not be pursued.

Importantly, Mining3 will continue focusing on, and developing CRCMining’s 'industry roadmap' within the new venture, a vision which CRCMining developed in consultation with its industry partners.

The Mining3 roadmap articulates industry’s mining research needs over three time horizons: within two years, three to six years and beyond six years.

"Our roadmap details the mining industry’s view of innovation needs, in order to respond to their commercial, environmental and social drivers of the future," Prof Lever says.

"It's about the entire operating premise that we should be adopting – how we get there and what are the challenges."

Mining methods and processes need to be developed in conjunction with mining equipment and technologies to optimise value. This approach is based on four major components:

  • New or modified mining methods and processes – given the business climate for profitable mining now and in the future, what are the mining methods and/or processes that will generate the best return on investment based on the available mineral deposits?
  • New mining equipment technology – the development of new or modified mining equipment and technology to meet mining methods and process requirements for existing and greenfield mine sites.
  • High level operational control of the mining value chain – it's critical that we develop models that describe the operation and performance of mining methods and processes in order to achieve operational control of the mining component of the value chain.
  • Highly skilled people to drive the adoption of new technology – the skill requirements for the current and future mining workforce, and the change management requirements to allow new mining processes and technologies to be adopted successfully.

Using this logic, the Mining3 roadmap outlines five core grand challenges for minerals extraction.

The first and second grand challenges focus on redefining surface and underground mass mining techniques.

The targets here are around significantly reduced mining costs and higher mining production rates, with smaller footprints, less infrastructure, much lower capital costs, lower energy usage, and new tools and processes to improve workforce productivity.

The third challenge drives the performance of high capacity selective mining approaches.

For example, today we mine many deposits using massive mining approaches where ore is separated using expensive processes in the minerals processing plant. Precise selective mining extraction techniques, and separation or processing technologies applied directly after face extraction, have significant potential.

The fourth challenge looks at the significant time and cost associated with bringing a mine into production. In the future, the growing minerals production requirements for population growth and the declining availability of large deposits will drive the need for many more mine starts per annum.

Large, high risk and lengthy returns for capital investments with permanent infrastructure will become even more difficult to achieve.

Finally, the fifth is about mining in challenging environments. These are places where many high grade deposits are known to exist, but their location presents challenges to mining.

These include underwater mines (both shallow and deep) and areas of high rainfall or high altitude or where there is limited water supply.

Prof Lever says the overarching mission for Mining3 is to enable cheaper and greater volumes of production of mineral resources in the future – and all of it done smarter and more effectively, with less social and environmental impact.

"We can't just keep creating very large holes in the ground and moving tonnes of material to a process plant or waste site downstream."

"We need to define new methods and processes, and develop tools and sensors that allow us to measure and control the extraction process to deliver the resources we need. It's critical to extracting in a sustainable and commercial way," Prof Lever says.

Prof Lever says the next 12 months will be critical. Initially, it will be about ensuring that the two parts of the new venture work together as a single entity. Another aspect will focus on marketing Mining3 to prospective members both in Australia and internationally.

We intend to make Mining3 an 'innovation hub' that has strong international connections and global clout.

"After one year, we hope to have significantly grown the membership group and to have researchers engaging effectively with industry members."

Mr Law believes this is the start of bringing the digital revolution to bear on this area of mining.

"This is about integrating the data and sensor revolution with new mining technologies, all the while being respectful of the environment and the social impact of what we do. It won't just be about the betterment of the industry but the betterment of what we do for the broader community."

Mr Greenwood believes Mining3 will be at the forefront of mining research.

"Research activities have often been fragmented in Australia and Mining3 is focused on consolidating some of these as the global leader in the mining research space."

The fall in the value of many commodities over the past few years has been obvious, but there is still huge global demand. If the demand is there but the values are less, then resourcefulness and productivity improvements will become far more critical.

"We know that the value derived from commodities has reduced significantly and that has driven the industry to rethink its approach," says Prof Lever.

"We have to mine with less energy, with smaller footprints and make the extraction process not just about extracting rock from a mine but about optimising the extraction of the commodity out of the resource. This is what we’re aiming to do."

"This is our chance to make a difference, both creating value for now and a common vision for the future. After all, what are commodities for? They’re for people. Our lifestyles and the way we live is dependent on them."

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