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20 November 2019 3 min read

CSIRO's new automated groundwater monitoring system, called SENSEI, is a year into its world-first trial at Heathgate Resources’ Four Mile West uranium mine, some 550 kilometres north of Adelaide in South Australia.

Heathgate's commitment to developing and operating Four Mile West as a world’s best-practice in-situ recovery (ISR) mine provided an ideal opportunity to trial SENSEI technology in a challenging environment.

Meeting regulatory compliance

ISR mining involves injecting alkaline or acidic fluids with an oxidant within a permeable geological formation, typically an aquifer. During this process, it is essential that the mining fluids are contained within the mining zone, as they are not only resource rich, but also have the potential to adversely impact adjacent areas, particularly aquifers.
Groundwater monitoring is an essential part of regulatory compliance.

Conventionally, as is the case at Heathgate's Beverley, Beverley North and Four Mile mining operations, this is done by manually pumping groundwater samples from each of a series of wells on the perimeter, overlying and underlying the mining area. The samples are then analysed to ensure that no mining fluid has drifted outside the immediate mining zone, laterally or vertically, and has been safely contained in the mining aquifer.

The manual sampling process at the mine typically takes two operators a month to complete, with analysis adding another time lag, so it can be two to eight weeks before the results are known. If anomalies are detected, the time between incident and action risks complicating the remediation process.

In-situ monitoring in real-time

The value and benefits of SENSEI are evident. SENSEI solid-state sensors inserted into the wells can provide real-time, continuous data on pH, redox potential, conductivity, temperature and water level.

Results from the SENSEI system, that comprises the sensors and associated software, can be monitored onsite or remotely via the cloud.

With support from Heathgate Resources, NERA (National Energy Resources Australia) and Boss Resources, the SENSEI trials at the Four Mile West mine began in November 2018 and, according to CSIRO project manager, Daniella Caruso, are progressing well.

[An animation image appears of a diagram of a SENSEI® sensor system showing a sensor panel above the ground and connected through a line moving down under the ground inside a casing and text appears: SENSEI®, Groundwater]

Narrator: SENSEI® is a state of the art automated solution for groundwater monitoring in real time.

[Camera zooms in on a point within the casing and text labels appear: Robust acid-resistant casing with embedded electric components, pH, ORP, reference, 3rd party sensor, Modbus serial communications cabling, Multiple sensor packs can be daisy-chained]

Its patented sensor system delivers accurate real time data from multiple chemical and physical sensor inputs.

[Animation image changes to show the sensor panel above the ground and the casing below the ground and text appears: Sensor system, Automated real-time monitoring, Minimal maintenance, Reducing time & costs]

The solid state sensors featuring our revolutionary sensor materials are embedded within the environment and require no regular manual readings and minimal maintenance reducing time and cost.

[Music plays and the camera zooms out to show the sensor system with the sensor panel above the ground and the casing below the ground and symbols of a thermometer, ORP, ph. and pressure appear around the sensor panel]

Inside a robust casing the multi-sensor array delivers simultaneous measurements of pH, ORP, conductivity, temperature, pressure and more.

[Animation image shows data lines moving out from the sensor panel to two clouds moving above the sensor system and then the camera zooms in on the cloud showing arrows pointing in and out] Data is then transmitted in real time and held in Cloud storage to be retrieved and analysed remotely.

[Animation image changes to show data on a laptop and then the camera zooms in on various graphs]

The SENSEI® visualisation tools presents your data simply and clearly for various uses and stakeholders.

[Animation image changes to show a mobile tower sending out data lines and then the animation image changes to show a tablet, a Smartphone, a computer screen and a laptop in a row]

The continuous data stream delivers alerts and information, ensuring the right information and the right format at the right time.

[Camera zooms in on the computer screen and a tick appears on the screen]

The early alert system reduces delayed reaction and escalation risk.

[Animation image shows symbols of a pick hitting a rock, a water pipe, and test tubes in a stand on the computer screen]

SENSEI® is optimised for use by mineral resources, the mining industry and water utilities and industrial water and chemical processing businesses.

[Animation image changes to show trees, rocks and shrubs in a line beneath a sun and cloud]

SENSEI® is an example of how CSIRO is improving environmental monitoring and resource performance through innovative science and technology.

[Image changes to show the CSIRO logo and text appears: Australia’s innovation catalyst]

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Successful field trial of SENSEI system

"At the moment, we’re in the middle of phase one of the trial, in which ten sensors were deployed in the inner region of the lateral environmental monitoring wells," Ms Caruso says.

"By collecting data and matching it with the manually derived results, we've learned most of the SENSEI architecture is working well after ten months in the field."

"A major benefit of the field trials is that we’ve learned which components are working well and identified others that need optimising for underground water monitoring conditions.

"All the above-ground infrastructure is performing well, in conditions ranging from sub-zero nights to near 50-degree daytime maximum temperatures.

According to Ms Caruso, achieving twelve months in the field is a big step forward, particularly because the underground components are exposed to 15 to 18 bars of pressure as the monitoring well-depths range from 150 to 180 metres. The trial is proving that SENSEI will result in miners increasing their operational efficiency with autonomous real-time access to accurate data.

Next steps for the trial involve optimising components and continuing to check results against manual testing.

Before SENSEI can fully replace manual testing, both users and government regulators must be satisfied that it meets rigorous groundwater monitoring requirements. 

Then the benefits of lower-cost, real time monitoring and remote access can be realised.

Partners for success

For CSIRO's SENSEI team, this will be the first step in the journey that will potentially involve applications in other areas of the mining, water and allied industries.

"We're thankful to Heathgate Resources, NERA and Boss Resources for their sponsorship and support in providing the opportunity to field test our SENSEI technology," Ms Caruso says.

The CSIRO team is now looking for partners to bring the technology to market.

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