The director of the CSIRO’s Minerals Down Under National Research Flagship, Dr Peter Lilly, has outlined his vision on science and technology development for the Australian mining industry by 2030.
In his keynote address at the 6th Annual Australian Mining Prospect Awards on Wednesday night, Lilly said the future prosperity of the industry would rely on investments in technology.
“The minerals industry, love it or hate it, is one which Australians simply cannot afford to live without,” he said.
“A good deal of the competitive advantage that we need to put in place will be based in science and technology.
“However, that vision will not become reality unless we recognise that genuine technology partnerships and collaboration are essential.”
According to Lilly, the average real cost of discovery in 2030 will be half what it was in the decade 2000 to 2010, thanks to routine use of ‘four-dimensional’ geological interpretations and simulations.
“A predictive understanding of geochemical anomaly formations and imaging of potential new discoveries at depths of up to one kilometre will also be possible,” he said.
Lilly said the economics of drilling would be transformed by the availability of lightweight, easily transportable equipment.
“Hard wearing new materials will be engineered into drill bits and fibre composite coiled tubing contains embedded fibre optics for telemetry,” he said.
“Sampling boreholes themselves will have very small diameters and down-hole probes will measure elemental and mineralogical compositions in real time.
“Remotely controlled semi-autonomous rigs will be able to move around in mines or in the field.”
According to Lilly, by 2030 many mines will be fully automated and controlled from major centres with minimal local support staff.
“Geologically intelligent autonomous mining systems will be capable of mining ore selected for grade and will be able to sort ore as it is mined,” he said.
“Deep ore mining systems keep people isolated from the hazardous activities of drilling, explosive placement, access construction and ore haulage.
“The injury frequency rate will be a very small fraction of what it was up to 2010 and there will be no fatalities on mine sites.”
He said large resources of mineral sands, alluvial gold, alluvial uranium and alluvial iron ore will use keyhole mining techniques to minimise the impact on other land uses.
“Innovative biological processes will revolutionise heap leaching and processing underground using in-situ and in-place leaching technologies will become widespread,” he said.
“For some ore bodies, in-situ processing will mean lower energy and water use and reduced disruption to the environment.
“Many large Australian deposits will be developed and operated using dry processing technologies.”
According to Lilly, the industry will no longer compete with the larger community for Australia’s stretched water resources by 2030.
“Forests are now considered a key part of mining as biomass partially replaces coal as a major energy source and reductant in several metallurgical processes,” he said.
“Many materials, once considered to be wastes, are used to generate valuable products.”
Lilly also predicted that several mines would operate in close proximity to Australian towns and cities with wide community support.
“Australian mineral exports will continue to grow to meet global demand as new, low grade and complex resources are seamlessly integrated into the production cycle,” he said.
“The Australian mining and minerals technology services sector will remain the world leader, with exports exceeding $20 billion per year.”