Award-winning research by Australian mining services firm Orica has resulted in the development of ultra-high intensity blasting technology which increases mine efficiency and saves costs without compromising safety levels.
Ultra-high explosive energies can increase the overall efficiency of mining operations by producing a far finer ore, which significantly expedites the downstream processes of comminution and milling.
This in turn lowers energy consumption levels across the entire mining and milling cycle, given that the use of electricity to mill ore is invariably the biggest consumer of energy on a mine site, while ore comminution continues to comprise a significant percentage global energy usage.
Lower energy consumption translates into both economic and environmental benefits, in the form of reduced costs for mining concerns, and fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Independent modelling has shown that raising explosive energy just several times can result in gains in mill circuit throughput of as much as 40 per cent, resulting in savings of tens of millions of dollars per annum.
A finer ore also has the potential to reduce grinding-related emissions by as much as a third.
Despite these manifest benefits, however, until now it has not been possible for miners to deploy these operations in their operations due to the safety and environmental issues created by high-intensity blasting.
The new technique developed by Orica's Dr. Geoff Brent promises to remove these impediments in open-pit mining operations by safety channeling the energy of ultra-high intensity blasts.
Brent's method works by containing the explosive energy of the blasts in the surrounding rock itself, via the selective deployment of cutting-edge digital electronic initiation systems in novel blast designs.
Brent and his team have successfully tested the technique by first conducting thorough trials of the blast models before deploying them in large-scale production blasts.
"The new technique demonstrated for the first time that not only can these ultra-high energies be safety utilised, but they can also deliver improved mining productivity and reduce environmental impacts in open pit mines," said Brent.
He added that the new method could have groundbreaking implications for mining operations around the world, particularly given the global trend of decreasing ore grades.
"More ore needs to be ground and pressed in order to achieve production targets, and this method has the potential to generate a steep change in mine productivity, particularly in complex or lower grade ore bodies," he said. "It can render ore bodies that might ordinarily be uneconomic both affordable and practical to extract."
Brent's breakthrough approach has already been acknowledged by members of industry, winning the 2014 CEEC Medal from the Coalition for Eco-Efficient Comminution.