At the PDAC Convention in Toronto and World Mining Congress in Montreal during 2013, cost reduction themes were pervasive. One common opinion is fuel switching, such as replacing diesel with electricity or natural gas, or using more solar and wind power generation on site. With the range of alternative energy options, these messages will likely repeat in the context of business optimization and paradigm shift in the mining industry. Rather than seeking energy alternatives, a more fundamental theme needs to be stated – to reduce the need for energy. At MineSense™ Technologies Ltd., they call this “sustainable mining.”
Comminution consumes the majority of mine energy and water, typically processing ore with greater than 99 per cent waste into concentrate. Therefore it would seem compelling to seek options to reduce the input volume, or more precisely, to reject waste from the input stream. MineSense™ refers to this processing philosophy as “pre-concentration.” This thinking expresses the need to apply energy only to the valuable stream, not waste components. Water consumption reduction is a significant parallel benefit to this approach. The time is right for this way of thinking to emerge because, in addition to comminution, other challenges are falling ore grades in currently operating mines all around the world, increased “resource nationalism,” and social license awareness in resources, creating stricter, and longer permitting processes.
These issues create large pressures on mine-site cash flow. For example, degradation from one per cent grade (99 per cent waste) to 0.5 per cent grade (99.5 per cent waste) means double capacity is required to produce the same cash flow. While it remains arguable that metal demand is robust, it is fluctuating. Cash conservation on current capital projects will affect a site’s ability to meet demand and reap market premiums when the market swings. As a whole, the industry faces a self-amplified shortage of supply due to reduced capital projects and falling grades. Soon after the next market upswing, there will be a rush to engage in fast-tracked projects to meet the demand. These expenditures will be among the largest scale projects to deal with the underlying issue of falling ore grades. This volatility cycle, and its widening swings, remains a vicious one for industry leaders to manage.
The MineSense™ solution senses material streams from conveyors and ore-facing shovels to determine its value, and through applied decision-support software, sorts the value from run-of-mine material by diverting barren rocks. Energy and water consumption in processing these barren rocks is thus avoided. The valued material tonnage and scale of equipment needed to transport and process them is also eliminated, extending the life of current capacity and reducing the need for future capital projects.
MineSense™ philosophy is to revolutionize the ore/waste flow by focusing on sensing and sorting to reject waste and improve overall mine efficiencies. Incorporating a variety of hardware and software technologies, and wide application knowledge, MineSense™ delivers on rugged and easy-to-use products. The MineSense™ solution is a suite of products using these technologies, including ShovelSenseTM, BeltSenseTM, and SortOre. Applied precisely, these sensing and sorting products can transform the industry with new efficient and sustainable practices.
SortOre is currently deployed in a pilot in Timmins, Ontario, recovering value from nickel waste dumps at previously unprecedented levels of sensitivity.