Conventional deep-level mining techniques are labor intensive and leave much gold behind in reefs and pillars. AngloGold Ashanti, with its Mponeng mine already past the 4,000 metre mark, has launched the Technology and Innovation Consortium with 30 leading global companies and universities contributing to the development of safer, more efficient gold mining processes
The southern African gold mining industry faces significant challenges, including health and safety issues, declining production and rising unit costs. Conventional drilling, blasting and cleaning techniques are labor intensive, which contributes to lost production time and high unit costs. They also leave much gold behind in thin reefs and support pillars. All these challenges are compounded by increasing mine depths – the Mponeng mine, for example, has already passed the 4,000-metre mark.
AngloGold Ashanti is working on a fundamental shift in deep-level mining, away from mechanization toward automation. Current mechanical operations rely on drill and blast techniques, forcing the mining operation into a batch process that calls for bigger and more robust equipment to deliver ever larger tonnages. In contrast, automation looks to go smaller, focusing on the gold-bearing ore and mining in a continuous operation.
To that end, AngloGold Ashanti has established the Technology and Innovation Consortium (ATIC) with the following objectives:
- Improving health and safety statistics and reducing the risk to human life by removing people from hazardous activities
- Reducing dependency on the conventional blasting cycle (i.e., drilling, blasting, cleaning, supporting, and sweeping) by introducing the use of intelligent technology
- Ensuring a reduction in lost time and waste by developing continuous operations through automation
- Increasing revenues by improving resource-to-reserve conversion and extraction rates (i.e., leaving less gold behind than with conventional mining techniques).
The ATIC brings together more than 30 global companies and universities that are leaders in the fields of mining, technology and innovation. Their goal is to achieve the major technical breakthroughs required to reach mining depths of 5,000 metres and beyond.
Hatch is managing the first of three stages in ATIC's strategic plan. We are focused on removing people from hazardous underground activities, while maintaining optimum production results. A number of critical areas identified for investigation and testing include: energy, water, ventilation, development and stoping machines, mine design, ore body knowledge, support, materials handling and backfill.
Stages 2 and 3 will build on these results to focus on intelligent mining and move toward a fully automated scenario.
For further information, please contact Marius van Reenen, MVanReenen@hatch.co.za