Resourcing Tomorrow: Technology, Connection, Transformation
WMC2022 will soon be calling for abstracts for oral and poster presentations that align with the following future-focussed themes:
Environment, Sustainability & Zero Emissions
Sustainable practices are at the core of the mining industry’s license to operate. Key aspects include environmental impact, resource and water scarcity, and closure rehabilitation and circular economy.
Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. There are major emerging risks due to climate change and the transition to a lower carbon economy, that range from risks resulting from increased severity of extreme weather events, to that arising from a variety of policy, legal, technological and market responses. Opportunities for innovation are equally significant and include decarbonisation, energy efficiency improvement, use of renewables, fugitive emission reduction, carbon capture and storage (CCS), and climate adaptation.
Digital mining leverages the best of digital and automation technologies to connect the entire mine value chain. Key focus areas include interoperability, sensors and communication, real time data capture, sorting and visualization, automation and robotics, integrated and remote operations, machine learning and artificial intelligence, digital twins, and cognitive networks.
Value chain optimisation has moved from silo-based decision making to a fully integrated systems approach. Implementation of Mining Industry 4.0 requires profound cultural and technical changes, with key focus areas including value chain analysis and integration, systems engineering, mine-to-port optimisation, data analytics, and intelligent remote operations, using cyber-enabled real-time data analysis and decision making, harnessing robotics, automated haul trucks and drilling rigs, UAVs, remote operating centres and predictive equipment maintenance systems for asset tracking and life-cycle management.
Mining is distinctly different from other industries, given the variable and uncertain nature of ore bodies, flowing through to continuous extraction, processing and transportation systems. Modern day sensors make capturing real-time data easier, the deployment of internet of things (IOT) sensors around different stages of the mining value chain is becoming a reality.
New Mining Frontiers
Discovery and extraction activities are increasingly extending to focus on deep onshore, undersea and space mining. These activities are driving the development and implementation of cutting-edge technology, and inter-discipline and inter-industry collaboration that will advance traditional mining processes to provide the resources necessary for the future.
In addition to the technology front, how will the current industry standards for reserve and resource estimation and reconciliation need to be modified to address undersea, deep on-shore and off-planet mining.
Future Workforce & Education
Education and skill requirements are increasingly demanding as mining technologies, and its physical, social/political operating environments are changing. As more technology is introduced into the sector the competencies and professionalism of the workforce becomes more, not less, important.
To adequately resource the future there needs to be greater focus on primary, secondary, tertiary and vocational education and pathways, continuous professional development, currency and professional mobility, inclusion, identity and cognitive diversity, development of the indigenous workforce, remote and digital delivery, international mining education collaboration, and strategic cooperation between the education sector and industry. Topics of interest also include strategies to attract a future digitally skilled workforce.
People & Community
Social licence to operate is not a cost to mining, nor a transactional process, but an imperative. More broadly, our sector’s connection to the wider community remains a central component for the sustainability of our industry. Key focus areas include social research, workforce, community and stakeholder engagement and measuring social performance.
Health & Safety
‘Zero Harm’ is a non-negotiable for the modern mining sector and the minimum standard for all operational decisions. Key focus areas include mine fires and explosion, rock bursts, coal and methane outbursts, rock falls, ground water ingress, failures of underground and surface mine infrastructure (e.g. tailing dams), mine emergency management and rescue.
Health topics of particular interest include dust, thermal stress, noise, diesel particulate matter, fatigue, anxiety and mental health.
Mining Science & Engineering
As the complexity, depth and scale of mining operations increases, the mining processes and associated equipment needs to evolve to meet the needs of remote and autonomous operations. This results in new challenges emerging for the mining sciences, METS and engineering functions.
Key mining science focus areas include rock mechanics, geotechnical assessment, hydrogeology, mine ventilation, gas emissions, ground control, slope stability, block caving, rock drilling and cutting. Key technological areas include latest technologies and innovative solutions for surface and underground mines of all minerals, from coals to metals, from construction materials to rare earth elements. Key mine design and planning areas are mine design methodology, short, medium and long-term mine planning, sequencing and scheduling, equipment selection, and infrastructure (rail, plant, and port), as well as mine approval processes, mining economics, capital allocation, and commodity end uses.
Other key focus areas are commodity market analyses, resources and environment policy, mining legislation and regulations, reserve and resource estimation, mine feasibility studies, capital-raising and investment, and mine planning. Sound resource and environmental policy is needed to support and enhance the business environment and prospectivity for mining.
Processing & Refining
Continuous improvement and innovations are required in the extraction, processing and refining of minerals to increase mineral recovery, selectivity and efficiency, reduce water and energy use, and minimise waste and environmental impact. Comminution is on average the highest energy step in the overall mining process (around 50%) and consumes up to 3% of all electric power generated in the world. Key areas of focus to reduce energy consumption are the use of geometallurgical models, mineralogy, characterisation, ore sorting and pre-concentration, new grinding techniques, plant design and in-situ processing and recovery.
Other key focus areas include hydrometallurgy, pyrometallurgy, water management, tailings and other waste and hazard management, rare earth elements processing, plant design and optimisation, mine to mill integration, intelligent plants, dry processing, and plant maintenance.
This theme also incorporates plant operations, practices and management, emerging technologies, instrumentation and sensors, automation and process control and data analytics. Importantly processing doesn’t end with a concentrate, but incorporates refining, recycling, reprocessing, metal accounting, reconciliation, and product marketing and specifications.
Geosciences & Discovery
The industry is faced with significant challenges to meet growing energy and resources demands worldwide. Over the last decade resource discovery has not kept pace with extraction and exploration expenditure has been in decline. To reverse this trend we need new data acquisition techniques and geoscience knowledge to support mineral exploration, to reduce the technical risks of exploration by providing pre-competitive data and to boost resource discovery rates. Key focus areas include exploration under deep cover, attracting exploration to frontier or greenfield regions, data collection and synthesis to unravel the fingerprints of ore-forming systems, characterisation to inform exploration, ore body knowledge, and modelling supported with artificial intelligence.
Efficient mine operations require greater advancement and application of geophysics, structural geology, engineering geology for reliable mine characterisation for geological, geotechnical and geohydrological conditions.
Unconventional Gas & Geothermal Energy
Unconventional gases, such as coal seam gas, shale gas and geothermal resources, provide sources of energy to assist with meeting growing global energy demands. To unlock the full potential of these massive energy resources, continuous innovations and new technologies are required. Key focus areas include advanced technologies, innovations and case studies for characterisation, planning and extraction of coal seam gas, shale gas, geothermal energy, and co-extraction of coal and methane. Other associated topics of interest are environmental impact and management, project finance, and licences and approval processes.