Rio Tinto and Barrick develop technologically innovative companies

The Argyle process plant. Image: Rio Tinto

Technological innovation has emerged as a necessity in the Australian mining industry.

Most mining companies have committed to initiatives that add technological innovation to their operations, and the mining equipment, technology and services (METS) industry is helping them achieve this strategy.

Next week (May 22-24) many of the top technological innovators from around the mining world will gather in Perth for the Austmine 2017: Mining’s Innovation Imperative exhibition and conference to discuss the latest developments in the industry.

Speakers at the conference will include Rio Tinto copper and diamonds vice president operational and technical support, Craig Stegman, and Barrick Gold chief innovation officer, Michelle Ash.

In the lead-up to Austmine 2017, both speakers told Australian Mining about the most exciting innovations at their respective companies.

Stegman said you could not help but be impressed with the automation of Rio Tinto’s Pilbara iron ore operations.

However, from a copper and diamonds perspective, Stegman said he was excited about the work the division was doing to support the company’s Mine of the Future program in large underground mining.

“We are working with a range of original equipment manufacturers to develop fit-for-purpose mining equipment for deep block caves, ranging from excavation to ground support installation,” Stegman said.

“There seems to be an almost infinite range of solutions and I am very impressed by the strategic thinking that is taking place to find the right pathway.”

Stegman said another dimension of RioTinto’s underground program was the development of communications systems that would be the foundation of advanced data analytics.

“We have all this advanced equipment but we needed a method of getting all the information generated out of the mine,” he explained.

“Trials of different options at Kennecott have now translated into deployment of improved communications systems at Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia where the data analytics needs are even greater.”

At Barrick, Ash said the company’s total carbonaceous matter (TCM) project was a “really fantastic processing innovation”.

Ash explained it took a couple of decades of research but Barrick was now using thiosulfate in the processing of carbonaceous gold ore.

“Carbonaceous ore isn’t good for processing via roasting, so previously we were using cyanide to extract the gold,” Ash said.

“Cyanide is highly toxic whereas thiosulphate is relatively non-toxic so it’s a big win for the environment and it also reduces fresh water use as we can recycle the thiosulphate solutions.”

Barrick’s new AMBS (air-metabisulphite) treatment has allowed the company to extract ore concentrates in its flotation processes by using salty or brackish water instead of using cyanide and lime, which are not only poisonous but use lots of fresh water, Ash added.

“We mine in some very arid areas so using brackish water means we aren’t taking away from water sources used by local communities,” Ash said.

Austmine 2017 will feature more than 50 speakers from across the globe, focusing on innovation within the mining and METS industries.

The conference brings together executive-level innovators from the mining and METS industries, senior government officials, and academics from Australia and around the world to collaborate and showcase how they are embracing innovation to increase productivity and competitiveness.