Independence Group CEO talks technology at Austmine 2019

For Independence Group (IGO), being at the forefront of technology change is paying dividends, with the company utilising a raft of alternate approaches at its diversified mine sites.

In recent times IGO has moved its focus toward minerals involved in battery production, with its world-class Nova operation producing high grade nickel, copper and cobalt, while also holding a 30 per cent stake in the Tropicana Gold Mine.

While Nova and Tropicana are major focusses, it is the exploration being carried out by IGO that is setting the company up for an exciting future.

The search continues in three dimensions

One of the main challenges faced by IGO is the vastness of the exploration areas they are faced with, with the search going deeper to find premium reserves.

IGO chief executive officer Peter Bradford explains that the company uses the very latest in geophysical and geochemical tools available, with previous collaborations with academic institutions proving their worth.

Bradford said, “Geophysics, especially electromagnetic (EM), has been a strong suit of IGO’s for many, many years … and going forward we see ourselves at the forefront of involving new tools for the understanding of EM.”

Enter 3D seismic: a technique which has long been a staple of understanding the ground fill systems of oil and gas explorations, but has only recently earned a foothold in hard rock mining environments.

Bradford continued, “Back in 2008, IGO first used it at our Long Mine, and that was one of the very first instances of 3D seismic used in a hard rock environment. We’ve gone on to use it at both Tropicana and Nova, and at Nova last year, we carried out the largest single 3D seismic survey ever undertaken in Australia.”

Building for the future

Nova, 100 per cent operated and managed by IGO, saw a rapid progression in development: from its discovery in July 2012, the mine moved rapidly through planning and construction, until it kicked off production in July 2017.

The mine is designed future-proofing in mind, which will be a major driver of productivity.

Bradford said, “We’re starting to put in a fibre-optic backbone underground, with a wi-fi system already in place, and we’re using that to facilitate remote logging from the surface.

“In the coming months we will start doing remote firing using wi-fi, and from my understanding, that will be one of the first applications of remote firing over wi-fi systems ever.”

Nova also incorporates an infrastructure that will be easily adapted to automation, especially in terms of drilling and haulage.

Not only does it present a safety improvement for workers, but also efficiency and productivity gains for IGO.

Exploration, the Canadian way

IGO’s Nova mine is one of the few high-grade magmatic nickel sulphide styles of mineralisation deposits in Australia, while much of the nickel sulphide mined previous was a komatiite style.

This magmatic style is more commonly seen in other countries, such as Canada, with its discovery presenting a tantalising prospect of further nearby discoveries along Western Australia’s Fraser Range, with IGO leading the exploration.

Nova quality

The quality of the ore produced from the Nova operation also sets it apart, with its high iron to magnesium oxide ratio desired by smelters.

Moving forward, there are two parallel pathways for IGO to leverage off some of the unique aspects of the project, continues Bradford.

“One of those is the exploration to discover those extensions to the Nova system, and in fact other systems on the Fraser Range. The second pathway is the opportunity for downstream processing of our nickel sulphide concentrate product, to produce a nickel sulphate chemical which is one of the key ingredients of electric vehicle batteries.” 

Minestar for progression

The Tropicana Gold Mine, a joint venture with AngloGold Ashanti, has seen IGO lead the way, with the combination of new exploration techniques and mature technology, such as high-pressure grinding rolls in their plant, proving successful.

The mine is also one of the few operations worldwide with a fully integrated Caterpillar Minestar system for controlling activity.

Bradford explained, “Recently we have adopted a strategic approach to the project using strip mining and in-pit dumping of waste – this is uncommon in the hard rock mining industry, although it is commonly seen in coal mining. I believe this will be the first ever occasion where this has been used in a gold mine, worldwide.

“Going forward, we would continue to look for opportunities, potentially leveraging off the Minestar system that we have, and progressing our mining activities through the different stages of automation.”

Hear Peter Bradford share his thoughts on enhancing productivity through people and technology in underground mining, when he takes to the stage as a special guest speaker at Austmine 2019.

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