As Australia’s national innovation agency, CSIRO have been pushing the edge of what is possible for almost a century. The organisation’s Mineral Resources Flagship works closely with industry partners and delivers solutions to grow Australia’s resource base, increase productivity and drive environmental performance. In this article, Mineral Resources Director Jonathan Law discusses the key initiatives underway to effectively deliver revolutionary technologies for the long-term benefit of the resources industry.
The mining boom hid many of the challenges that have been exposed by falling commodity prices. With lower prices, increasing productivity has become an entrenched focus for the mining industry. This focus on productivity has meant many of the major long-term challenges for future mining – such as declining ore quality and mining to greater depths – have taken a back seat, and some have become too diff icult for individual companies to tackle and solve alone. This is especially true in the large capital business of mining technology and equipment. The technologies the industry needs in order to evolve are increasingly complex and expensive to develop. No single mining company could feasibly tackle these major challenges on their own. Many resource companies are also reluctant to see technologies dominated by single suppliers, and this can limit the appetite for businesses to drive innovation.
Collaborative solutions, however, can provide both the funding and commercial outcomes to meet these challenges. There is no question that innovation will play a pivotal role in transforming the sector. Success in future mining will depend on the industry, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), mining equipment and technology services (METS) and researchers coming together to work on these common challenges. As Australia’s national research agency, CSIRO invests significant financial and scientific resources to support continuing prosperity in the mineral resources sector in Australia. Part of our approach is through eff ective collaboration based on strong benefits for all, which we believe is the best way to accelerate innovation aimed at transforming the mining industry.
New research venture In 2016, we partnered with CRCMining to create Mining3 – the world’s largest independent mining research entity. Mining3 brings together miners, OEMs and the innovation sector to tackle big problems at scale and deliver solutions to the global mining industry. Mining3 is fully engaged with industry, and mining company leaders are embedded within its founding membership. The partnership combines the national focus of CSIRO with the global industry-focused group, CRCMining. This transaction cements the transition of CRCMining from its roots as a cooperative research centre (CRC) – supported through the Australian government’s CRC program – to an independent collaborative research vehicle with an Australian base and global reach. This will position Australian innovation at the forefront of new technologies in the global mining industry. The creation of Mining3 brings together CSIRO and CRCMining’s hard rock mining capabilities, such as mechanical rock-cutting and drilling, automation and control, geological sensing and geophysics for mining.
Digital disruption is happening everywhere, and the mining industry is no exception. Mining3 will also draw on CSIRO’s digital arm, Data61, to provide the glue for integrating big data into the next generation of mining technologies. This will allow Mining3 to identify opportunities to disrupt the traditional mining cycle, enabling productivity gains and potentially revolutionary new approaches to mining that embrace ore variability using real-time information.
Key advantages for Mining3 are its scale, partnerships and focus, built on an extensive global network of experienced research collaborators and industry partners. Its research program is directed by industry to ensure that research and development (R&D) priorities are in line with the most pressing technical issues faced by companies.
We know that impact from R&D cannot be achieved without working with industry, and industry cannot prosper unless they overcome the technical issues facing traditional mining technologies as they battle to keep pace with commercial, social and environmental pressures.
Mining3 has 13 industry members, including four multinational mining companies, four industry supply companies/manufacturers, four universities and CSIRO. It is governed by a representative board chosen from its members, and also includes independents. The board delegates responsibility for research to the research committee, which directs funding decisions and oversees research execution.
The Mining3 roadmap will address five main challenges of mineral extraction – surface mass mining techniques, underground mass mining techniques, selective mining approaches and techniques, streamlining new mines into production, and mining in challenging environments, such as underwater.