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New innovations in mining

New innovations in mining

Innovation has long been a hallmark of the mining industry, and in recent months we’ve seen some significant research come to market. 

Productivity improvements 

Autonomous vehicles are not new to mining, but there are still several new uses that continue to evolve. In Western Australia, Rio Tinto has been the first in the world to deploy autonomous water trucks at the Gudai-Darri iron ore mine. The trucks automatically detect dry conditions that need to be watered and refill themselves. Rio Tinto believes that this will enable them to improve productivity at the site in their water activities while also reducing water usage.  

Approximately 53% of organisations are turning to electrification to reduce costs according to State of Play’s Electrification Report 2021. However, the cost benefits need to be weighed against the cost of transitioning to a new energy source, which is something most companies considering the move are grappling with. One of the other benefits of electrification are environmental, thanks to a likely reduction in carbon and diesel particulate emissions meaning this opportunity could see more mines achieving zero carbon emissions.

Environmental developments

With environmental impact now high on the agenda for most governments and companies, finding new ways to manage, reduce and rehabilitate environmental damage are important. Research in the US has found ways to measure the restoration of river systems impacted by mining. The study reviewed not only the river itself but also the plant species, animals and insects that relied on it. The research found that the river systems took an average of 10.25 years to recover once mining was completed, regardless of the level of pollution found initially. This is positive news and gives hope of reversing some of the negative impacts of mining in the future.    

Environmental damage through extraction can also be significant. Researchers at Curtin University in Western Australia have found a way to extract invisible gold trapped in pyrite that is environmentally friendly. With the discovery of new gold deposits declining, being able to extract invisible or ‘fool’s’ gold is a welcome discovery. 

The research found that the gold can be hosted in nanoscale crystal defects, whereas previously it was believed to be found only as nanoparticles or a pyrite-gold alloy. The gold is hosted in nanoscale defects called dislocations, so small that they require a technique called atom probe tomography to see them. To extract it they steered away from pressure techniques that require a significant amount of energy and found that selective leaching was effective. This involves using a fluid to dissolve the gold from the pyrite without impacting the pyrite itself. 

Research is also being undertaken in France on how gold can be recovered effectively by examining how gold reacts with minerals that contain iron and arsenic to better understand the chemical reactions that occur in gold processing. The research should assist in being able to identify and improve exploration and extraction processes, potentially reducing both risk to workers and environmental damage. 

Improvements in governance

Consumers are increasingly demanding more information about the origin of the products that they use. While this has been common in areas such as food production, it is also likely to become more prevalent in mining. Technology developed by Australian company, Source Certain International, and Cornish Lithium will allow the origin of lithium within a battery to be identified down to a specific mine site. This goes a long way to creating a transparent supply chain for lithium. 

These developments are just a few examples of how innovative research and technology has the potential to transform the mining industry in the near future. 
 

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