Sustainability, Technology

Expanding the realms of mine rehabilitation

Australian Mining sat down with Dendra Systems to uncover what the environmental technology company has in store for 2024.

Last year saw Dendra’s Australian business effectively double in size, with industries such as the mining sector gravitating further towards the company’s inspired approach to ecosystem restoration.

Dendra is harnessing technology to expand the realms of mine rehabilitation and ecological understanding, with high-resolution drone surveys, data science, machine learning, automation, and interventions such as aerial seeding and deep domain expertise at the heart of the company’s solution.

Technology has enabled Dendra to gather ecological insights at scale, a longstanding drawback of more traditional boots-on-the-ground data collection methods.

In fact, in 2023 alone, Dendra achieved scale improvements by a multiple of four, something made possible by the company’s ability to cover large territories quicker and more intelligently.

This is music to the ears of the expansive, largely remote Australian mining industry, which is facing heightened environmental, social and governance (ESG) pressures from stakeholders, investors and governments across the world.

After having achieved so much in 2023, what will the rest of 2024 look like for Dendra?

“For a company like ours, we can’t sit and rest on what we have,” Dendra Australia general manager Guy Smith told Australian Mining. “Technology’s changing, environments are changing, and we need to constantly be assessing whether we can do things better, faster or whether we can provide more insights to drive better decisions.

“So this year we’re focused on increasing the value we deliver to our existing customers by evolving our products and continuing to expand our business through our unique RestorationOS-based solutions.”

Smith hinted at the introduction of several “new and enhanced” products in 2024, including offerings to help mining customers make “evidence-based decisions” regarding erosion factors at their site.

“This will assist customers to receive erosion signals early and quash any risks that appear on-site before they become major concerns,” Smith said.

“We also intend to help customers make more sense of the vast amounts of high-quality environmental data generated by their mines, both by us and by third parties.

“We’ve had it put to us by some customers that they have a fire hose of environmental data pointed at them, a lot of which they’re simply unable to make use of. Our intent for this year is to distil that down into dedicated streams, helping customers focus on areas that will deliver the best outcome for them operationally and environmentally in the eyes of the regulator and the wider community.

“This will ultimately ensure their social licence to operate fits in with the ESG piece going forward.”

To achieve even greater scale than what can be achieved by drones, Smith said Dendra is exploring new technologies such as manned aviation.

“We are looking at fixed-wing planes that can cover 10 times the scale than what can sensibly be achieved with drones,” he said. “Not everyone needs 10,000 hectares surveyed, so this doesn’t mean drones will be replaced; we’re just adding another tool to the kit bag.

“For a coal mine in the Hunter Valley with a 200–500-hectare area of interest, drones are probably the more suitable option there, but having technologies such as manned aviation available is just another option for us to scale and cater for more customers.”

While Dendra experienced incredible growth in 2023, the demand for the company’s products could accelerate even further this year as the mining industry increasingly embraces its ESG imperative.

This could be even further benefited by an emerging trend.

“Across a number of mining conferences and networking sessions, I’ve noticed an underlying theme in the industry that when it comes to adopting new technology, there’s a race to be second,” Smith said.

“Companies are closely watching early adopters. As soon as they get a signal that an early adopter is getting benefits or gaining value from a technology, there will be a race to be the second adopter.

“So we believe that once value and benefit are proven from contracts we commenced last year, we could see even faster uptake of our solutions in 2024.”

Dendra is already starting to see its proof-of-concept from recent contracts ripple out through the wider mining sector.

“We’re getting individual early adopters, but we’re also getting early adopters within larger groups,” he said.

“For example, a single site owned by a Tier 1 mining company might work with us, have a positive experience and get some of their areas certified using our data and insights, which is then the trigger for other sites owned by that company to jump on board as they have that test case.”

In the same way the technology landscape continues to evolve, prompting Dendra to explore visionary data-collection methods such as manned aviation, the regulatory landscape is also ever-changing.

Regulators have typically opted for traditional on-the-ground methods when carrying out their evaluations, meaning mining companies have often followed suit to ensure they operate within recommended guidelines.

But there could be a technology shift taking place.

“The Western Australian Department of Water and Environmental Regulation recently published a memo detailing how they are introducing and expanding the use of remote-sensing technologies, including high-resolution drones, to improve environmental assurance activities,” Smith said.

“Essentially, they’re now regulating mines using technology that we use.

“So we’re starting to see a top-down adoption of our technology from the regulators, which can only be a positive with regards to normalising Dendra’s innovative RestorationOS approach to ecosystem restoration.

“If mines see the regulators using remote-sensing technologies, they’re likely to use it themselves so they operate in line with that. This is a really good signal from the government that technologies such as what Dendra provides are increasingly becoming the norm.”

As the ESG rhetoric strengthens and emerging environmental technologies and methodologies are further proven, all signs are pointing towards greater demand for Dendra’s ecosystem restoration solutions.

This will enable Australian mining companies and contractors to become better environmental stewards, ensuring proactive mine rehabilitation and a better future for local communities and stakeholders.

This feature appeared in the April 2024 issue of Australian Mining.

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