Anglo American gives tech-advanced Aquila coal project green light

The Aquila site. Image: Anglo American.

Anglo American will extend the life of the Capcoal underground metallurgical coal operations in Central Queensland by six years after approving the Aquila project.

The company plans to spend $US226 million ($325 million) to revive the Aquila operation, which was placed under care and maintenance earlier this decade due to low coal prices.

Development of the Aquila project is set to begin in September and first longwall production is scheduled for early 2022.

Anglo American claims it will be developing Aquila into one of the most technologically advanced underground mines in the world, with features such as a remotely-operated longwall.

The company will adopt its FutureSmart Mining program, which aims to apply innovative thinking and advanced technology to address operational and sustainability challenges.

Aquila’s development will extend the mine life of the Bowen Basin operations to 2028. The project has been designed to annually produce five million tonnes of coking coal.

Anglo American’s Metallurgical Coal business chief executive, Tyler Mitchelson, said the company was leveraging the innovative work already under way at its existing sites and scaling the development of new technologies.

“Anglo American has been at the forefront of embracing innovation to drive the next level of mine safety and performance, and our Aquila mine will be developed as one of the most technologically advanced underground mines in the world,” Mitchelson said.

“We will pursue remote operation of the Aquila longwall, ensuring our people are removed from harm’s way, and the continued digitisation of our operations, using new technologies such as our Australian-first intrinsically safe underground electronic tablets.

“The accelerating pace of technological innovation, particularly in the digitalisation, automation and artificial intelligence areas, are opening up opportunities for the mining sector to be safer, more productive and sustainable.”

Mitchelson said Aquila would provide ongoing employment opportunities for the company’s workforce at the adjacent Grasstree underground mine as it moves towards closure.

“Importantly, the project will provide continuity for our local workforce, with planning under way to transition employees to Aquila from Grasstree, as it approaches its end of life,” Mitchelson added.

Anglo American manages the Capcoal open cut and Grasstree underground operations at the Capcoal complex. The underground operations are 70 per cent owned by Anglo American, with Mitsui & Co holding the remaining 30 per cent.

Mitsui will also need to approve its investment in the Aquila project before it goes ahead.

Anglo American chief executive of bulk commodities, Seamus French, said Aquila offered a high-margin extension to the Grasstree mine.

“The project benefits from low capital intensity as we can use the existing infrastructure and systems from our adjacent Grasstree mine that is coming towards the end of its economic life, as well as providing continuity of employment for our workforce,” French said.

In 2018, Anglo American produced two million tonnes at the Capcoal open cut and 3.6 million tonnes (attributable to Anglo American) at Grasstree.

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