Mining3 Innovation Forum22 Questions

Panel discussion: Decarbonisation and Sustainability

The panel has highlighted the move toward lower-grade more difficult deposits to be mined. Will the cost of decarbonisation impact market competitiveness

In the short term, conventional mining operations are obviously lower in cost. However, markets (shareholders & governments) are pushing for decarbonisation, so eventually, those who aren’t addressing this need will lose market competitiveness.

In terms of decarbonisation what are the relatively easy fixes and what will be hard challenges (and need research)?

Operating mines from renewable electricity is the obvious ‘easy fix’, especially when electric mining machinery is/can be employed with existing technology (electric rope shovels, draglines, conveyors, hoists, trolleys, etc). The harder challenge for mining is to transition equipment that can’t easily be replaced with the above at scale and with the same flexibility and availability. Research is helping to understand how mines can be redesigned for existing available electric-drive equipment or with new approaches that reduce waste movement in the first place (e.g. in-place mining), or what future battery/hydrogen / e-fuel hybrid powered haulage solutions need to look like for each, specific, mining operation.

What do you see as the biggest barriers/challenges, for taking a prototype from R&D ( eg. Mining3) to a commercial product, in the mining industry?

In our experience, this is the point where great ideas often stall. There are many reasons for this, including a lack of demand, cost issues, risk appetite, etc. But perhaps the biggest challenge is in securing funding to move from prototype to commercial product and with it, fair allocation of future IP value. Over the years Mining3 has worked with many commercialisation partners to get our technologies into the market. We recognise the need for us to find ways to do this faster.

Does a ”preparedness to take risk” as part of the decarbonisation journey translate to testing a broad range of technology using a “fail fast” basis?

There is much to be learned from the tech industry’s “Minimum Viable Product” and “Fail Fast” culture of recent years. Applied well, it can help mining meet social demands for rapid energy transition (see below). Done poorly, it is a recipe for potentially unsafe and inefficient solutions that achieve the opposite outcome by damaging industry confidence and slowing adoption.

Some problems are too big for one OEM to risk solving. In what ways can OEMs work together with the industry to develop radically new mining equipment?

OEMs will naturally guard their proprietary research programs for their own competitive advantage. Mining3 has worked successfully with our OEM members to support them over many years with product development. Radical and transformational solutions require pulling from the miners to demonstrate market demand. Mining3’s collaborative model can help share risk in tackling tough industry problems. We have a strong history of developing transforming technologies that are ultimately commercialised by OEM partners.

Could you please comment on the standardisation versus innovation challenge of decarbonisation as OEM’s bring new and differentiated solutions to the market?

History teaches that during any period of rapid change, competing solutions are developed. Ultimately, one may emerge as a clear winner. For miners, this is particularly true now of the range of choices in decarbonisation technologies, e.g. for the truck fleets. The risk for miners is that they need to make big bets when many technology questions remain unanswered. Mining3 can help accelerate industry through this transition by supporting collaborative research that helps derisk technology and hence major capital investment decisions.

How to combine decarbonization with coal mining?

Decarbonisation is, without a doubt, a major challenge for coal mining. There are many technologies and opportunities to decarbonise mining. Mining3 is supporting this with projects including mine fleet decarbonisation solutions as well as low-carbon explosives technology. Finding technologies to reduce fugitive emissions in coal mines will also be important. Decarbonising scope 3 emissions in coal mining will probably require the deployment of Carbon Capture and Storage at scale.

What is the role of mine planning and different mining techniques?

The selection of the best and safest mass mining technique to match a given mine site will always remain critical to the role of mine planning, especially in light of the global push towards decarbonisation. This is because a higher demand will be placed on the metals and minerals associated with the transition to electrification, such as copper and lithium. To ensure that these resources are available in the required time frames, improvements in extraction, processing, and instrumentation technologies must be made. Consequently, the early planning phase becomes even more important, as it will ensure that the right techniques, equipment, and processes are in place to address these new challenges. At Mining3 we are eager to contribute to the engineering challenges posed by the advancement of mining technology, to ensure that the goals of decarbonisation are met.

How do you ensure that your efforts are not offset elsewhere in the value chain, ie energy sources, product, and life cycle/recycling of finished goods?

Mining3 has developed a value driver tree framework that has been used on a number of projects to understand both the up-and downstream effects of implementing a change to a mining operation. For example, in the Hydra project, the model considers the renewable generation of hydrogen through its compression, storage, and supply to and operation of the haul trucks to meet annual production targets over the life of the mine. By evaluating numerous scenarios, this tool has provided insight into the trade-offs of the whole value chain over the whole life of mine to help mines plan their transition to decarbonised haulage solutions.

Panel discussion: Automation and Sensors for the Future of Mining

In underground mines, How does the shift to electrification impact on automation?

Electrification of mobile equipment will both improve automation but also create new challenges. Electric drive systems offer greater control over the movement of the machine, thus improving response and control of autonomous solutions. Electric drive systems also reduce maintenance requirements, thus improving the continuity of operation, especially in autonomous systems. However, depending on the power train on the machine and how the system is recharged or refueled, new automation systems will be required for this.

Will equipment have to be redesigned to facilitate robotic maintenance for a zero entry mine

The redesign is required for any significant changes in automation. However, similar to the automation of driverless cars, a full redesign of existing equipment is unlikely and stepped phases of automation and robotic maintenance using sensors and AI is more likely due to the intricacies and further data that need to be collected for such activities.

Do you think automation has been overhyped and ‘sold’ too early? And If so how does the industry compensate for it and goes passed that?

It’s easy to become excited about new technology, focusing on the technology without understanding the broader implications on the operations (up and downstream), the people, maintenance, etc. The success of the technology will depend highly on the maturity of the technology and the maturity of the site (or the ability to manage the technology). Automation solutions do get implemented, successfully or otherwise, at mine sites, but often the learnings are not readily available or shared. Being a part of collaborative organisations like Mining3, GMG, SMI, AustMine, and others helps the industry to share their learnings, and research, and innovation to prosper.

Do you think there are any downsides to pushing the industry into undergrad study? Does this put out-of-the-box thinking at risk?

The industry needs to better engage students on the importance of mining to the global decarbonisation challenge. This needs to happen before students make major career choices. The proven way to avoid cognitive bias is to ensure diversity, in miners, OEMs, universities, and other research organisations and to promote an open, inquisitive culture.

How can we leverage edge computing to reduce the demand for network bandwidth of automated or teleremote systems?

The scalability of edge computing systems within mines is greatly limited by dedicated computational hardware for most complex automated systems (given the harsh mining environment). That being said, given the regular advances made in the field that aim at reducing this computational load and Mining3 aims at actively monitoring the state of the art to ensure the most viable and efficient computational techniques are used in the technologies currently in development at Mining3. With the increase in AI-powered systems, comes an inherent increase in the collection and transfer of sensor data, hence as a result, an increase in network utilization, limiting remote operations to a degree. Mining3 has helped develop a novel solution that allows for high-speed data transfer within mines while only utilziing the form factor of a standard power cable which allows for the distribution of both power and greater networking capabilities within the mine. This would help eliminate or reduce the current bottleneck on networks, and allow for safe remote operation in mines while harnessing better, advanced external hardware capabilities.

Do your companies have any interest in space mining (or “in-situ resources utilisation” to use its politically-correct name) now or in the future?

We’re not quite sure what you mean here. If you are referring to in-situ mining, where minerals are leached in-situ avoiding removal of overburdened ore-bearing rock then yes, Mining3 has been involved in a number of these projects over the years. These reports are available to members through the member portal. If you mean mining in outer-space (moon, asteroids, etc), then we haven’t gone that far just yet!

Why isn’t mining using UWB ultra-wideband to overcome the communication issue for control systems?

UWB is a promising technology for localisation of autonomous mobile systems, particularly in GPS-denied spaces. However, it has high latency which reduces its ability to respond quickly. It has applications where location and sensor data can be fused to build more robust, low-latency, solutions.

Automation so far has been mostly focused on proprietary solutions. Will future systems be open platforms for collaborative & faster development and data use?

Open collaboration undoubtedly speeds up research and development; with ever-increasing levels of autonomation, we believe that there is ample opportunity for different parties to come together to achieve bigger goals faster. Mining3 has and continues to provide a unique space where mining companies, OEMS, and research members can come together and drive open collaboration.

Panel discussion: Accelerating Transformation in the Mining Industry

Innovation in mining means, first to be second. What are you doing to be THE leader in the space?

Mining3’s objective is to help our members and the industry de-risk mining innovation through collaborative research. This way we can help accelerate the deployment of innovative technologies for the benefit of all.

Barriers in AI are broken on a weekly/daily basis with the introduction of new research/tech. How do you keep up with this high throughput of quality research?

Part of our research process involves keeping closely in touch with recent advances not only in AI but across the different research areas at Mining3. We find that working closely with our research partners, members, and commercialisation partners helps us not only to keep up with emerging technologies but to contribute to technology advancement in research and industry.

Where do post-mine life land use and economic activity sit within innovation and sustainability?

Post-mine land use is a critical aspect of sustainability, and indeed economic activity doesn’t need to stop when a mine closes. This is a key theme in CRCTiME but is also acknowledged by mine owners. Mining3 is also playing a role here, developing frameworks to understand the value model and impact of various technologies that are being considered for post-mine application.

What barriers for innovation in mining do you face?

It’s probably fair to say that mining is a generally conservative business. There is a natural tendency to stick with what works. This approach will not deliver on society’s decarbonisation and sustainability expectations. Big bets on a “winning technology” is a high-risk strategy. At Mining3, we believe that collaboration is an effective strategy to derisk an innovation program.

Why has mining’s support of research and development of innovative solutions become so risk-averse?

Like any commodity industry mining is cyclical, margins are tight and research budgets are often the first to come under pressure. These are conditions that reward risk-averse behaviour. Two external forces are radically changing this: society’s demand for more critical minerals to drive the energy transition and; an equally strong demand for mines to decarbonise. These will necessitate more innovation than the industry has probably ever seen before and certainly at a pace, it has never experienced. Greater collaboration across the industry to address these challenges is critical to all in the industry.

How does the industry identify future skills in mining and how does Mining3 support mining transformation by responding to industry needs?

This is a problem we face today. Universities are struggling to attract new students into mining. The lure of high salaries in mining is no longer enough to attract the brightest and the best. The industry needs to do a much better job of making mining more relevant to young people today. Mining3 has supported the development and industry training of undergraduate and graduate engineers for many years and continues to do so by sponsoring Ph.D. researchers and undergraduate practice work.

Market penetration challenge. How are your customers treating the IP of solutions you develop for them? And how are you encouraging them to share and scale?

One of Mining3’s key objectives is to ensure innovation gets to market wherever possible. In most circumstances, we need to work with commercial partners to make this happen. We carefully choose commercialisation partners in whom we have confidence and we ensure our license agreements have performance targets. Of course, market growth will ultimately be determined by consumer demand.

How is the uptake of new sustainable technologies impacted by early end-user engagement how should employees be upskilled to utilise such new technologies?

A common lesson learned by organisations implementing new technologies is that success is highly dependent on early engagement, and hands-on experience by site personnel. For example, Mining3 recently trialed a hydrogen fuel cell power train on a mine site through the Hydra Consortium project. We worked with site personnel using their safety systems to plan the trial. This provided some confidence that safety was at the forefront of the trial. However, allowing site personnel to work on the project developed their knowledge, experience, and acceptance of the technology. Early end-user engagement was critical to the success of the field trial, and now many staff can speak at firsthand about the new knowledge and skills they have gained.

Does Mining3 have a test mine where research can be conducted? as site trial access is a bottleneck in research

With the support and cooperation of some of our members, Mining3 has been investigating the potential for developing a trial site. This is something we think could add significant value for the industry but is also a major undertaking and would require strong support from members, research partners, and the industry to realise.