University of Adelaide heads $14m research consortium to boost copper production

The University of Adelaide will lead a $14.6 million research consortium to develop technologies designed to increase copper production in South Australia.

The research consortium – Unlocking Complex Resources Through Lean Processing – includes a range of miners, equipment manufacturers and government bodies including BHP, OZ Minerals, Boart Longyear and METS Ignited Industry Growth Centre.

It aims to develop a globally competitive mining technology services sector in South South Australia and aligns with the state government’s plan to triple SA’s copper production to one million tonnes a year by 2030.

The consortium has received a $4 million grant over four years through the state government’s Research Consortia program, while the University of Adelaide invested $4.46 million. The remaining funds will be contributed by a range of mining sector and research partners.

In 2014-2015, South Australia’s copper and copper concentrate exports were valued at over $2 billion, making it the state’s single largest export item in value.

“There is a large untapped copper resource in the state with total value of known copper resource (with gold as a by-product) at over $800 billion,” Professor Stephen Grano, director of the University of Adelaide’s Institute for Mineral and Energy Resources, and director of the new consortium, said.

“There is a significant potential to increase the rate of commercial exploitation of these resources which would have major beneficial economic impacts for the state.”

However, Grano warned that there are also major capital and operating cost barriers to overcome, due to the complexity of the copper resources.

“The research consortium will develop advanced technology to tailor the mining and processing options to specific characteristics of the mineral ore in real-time – an approach known as lean processing,” he said.

“We will be able to look at copper mining across the whole value chain from the resource in the ground, right through mining and processing, enabling the whole system to be optimised rather than optimising isolated parts.”

The state’s copper ores often have different minerals interwoven within, and processing requires large sources of water, energy and capital.

Professor Julie Owens, deputy vice-chancellor (Research) at the University of Adelaide, said the consortium aims to address these challenges through sustainable mining, while reducing environmental impacts and increasing commercialisation of mining technologies for the global market.

“The consortium will leverage the existing strengths of the partners who will come together to assist in fully unlocking the state’s complex resources and building a globally competitive mining equipment and technology services sector in South Australia,” she said.

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