Sensors taken to the extreme

Mining3 has recently entered into phase 2 of research for the development of remote sensors capable of withstanding extreme operating environments.

Conventional radio frequency communications are unreliable and often fail within saline rich and humid environments. These situations are all too common across mines globally and make any form of wireless through-ground communication or sensing extremely difficult. When making critical operational decisions, miners largely depend on access to real-time data. Without reliable communication techniques or infrastructure, these decisions are more difficult and less informed, often resulting in greater risk.

With deposits becoming increasingly scarcer, mining operations are frequently meeting new extreme operating conditions that further increase risk for the safety of staff and ability to mine into the future.

Mining3 has a rich history in the development of through-ground communication.  Our earliest work commenced in the 1990s with the development of measurement-whilst-drilling technologies that have been used in a number of commercial applications.  This progressed to wireless emergency communications technologies developed in the 2000s.  In 2014 we developed an intrinsically safe wireless survey tool for Underground In-Seam (UIS) drilling. The past partnership with the research and development of what’s now known as Elexon’s Cave Tracker, focussed on the tracking of cave flow movements, providing real-time data on flow and subsidence. The Cave Tracker system, uses magnetic beacons embedded in the orebody which are spun at a particular speed to generate a magnetic field that can be detected from over 200m away through broken rock. The beacon signals are then picked up by detectors surrounding the orebody.  The ability to track beacon movement allows mine engineers to determine which parts of the cave are moving and which parts are not.

Building off this fundamental research, Mining3 is now using similar techniques to develop remotely deployable, through-ground geotechnical sensors.  Currently Mining3 is working closely with project partners and members, Newcrest Mining to develop a series of sensors focussed on obtaining reliable real-time through-ground data to ensure accurate mine planning and blasting processes in extreme geothermal environments.

These battery powered sensors operate remotely and communicate through the ground over extended transmission distances. Recent site tests have shown the ability to operate at over 150 ˚ Celsius within a range of 120 metres.  This second generation prototype has an expected battery life of 6 months in extreme environmental and geotechnical environments.
Once developed, these sensors could have a wide range of applications from measuring tilt, movement, water pressure, temperature, geochemical properties including pH and conductivity, and more.

Due to recent COVID restrictions, and an inability to enter the next phase of mine site testing, Mining3 has begun the development of an open air testing facility for further tweaking and sensor design modifications.  This facility will drive impact and value for a range of research programs from fibre optic sensing through to ground penetrating borehole radar. The facility is currently being  developed to simulate a range of mining scenarios from borehole sensing through to geothermal sensor development utilising instrumented and heated boreholes.

These sensors are expected to open a wide range of through-ground communication research projects, increasing the safety of mining staff as well as improving the overall awareness of operational processes and increasing productivity.
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