Global demand for minerals shows few signs of slowing down, but decreased volumes of high-grade ore deposits remain. With tighter regulations in place to lessen the environmental impact of mining, conventional extraction methods are no longer sufficient and mining efficiency is key.
The Cooperative Research Centre for Optimising Resource Extraction (CRC ORE) has developed the Integrated Extraction Simulator (IES), a modelling system designed to improve mining efficiency.
“The IES software product has been designed as a complete mine-to-concentrate decision support system,” says Nick Beaton, who heads up the IES program at CRC ORE.
He says the cloud-based software lets mining engineers test possible changes that could be made in mining efficiency processes, then compare different scenarios across different time frames.
With modelling done in a virtual mine, a team of experts can collaborate on the simulation, all accessing the model simultaneously from anywhere in the world to test changes in the design, layout and operation of both the mining process and the concentrator in ways that can optimise metal production and reduce its environmental footprint.
“We’ve used IES to plan continuous improvement initiatives in the mine-to-mill operations and to optimise multiple mining and processing scenarios across the life of the mine,” says Beaton.
The IES can be used across different mining and processing procedures, starting from drill and blast, through all the stages of processing, from comminution to flotation to leaching.
Each process and each piece of equipment in the mine is configured using IES software to create a processing flowsheet, which is calibrated using historical surveys, mass balances and model-fitting exercises.
The simulator is trained by using historical data and refining its predictions, comparing these with the previous years’ operational data from the plant. Once the IES is trained to predict past performance accurately — with some fine-tuning applied — it is switched to optimise-mode.
“This is where it gets interesting,” says Beaton. A lot of expensive computing happens next, but by using fully scalable cloud-based processing power, IES users aren’t outlaying for expensive computing equipment that lies idle most of the time.
Mapping ore bodies in critical detail
Engineers can do a mass simulation of every block in the ore body to test different mining and processing scenarios, even combining multiple rock types in the ore stream.
“The result provides the planning engineers with a 3D virtual view of the metallurgical landscape which they can use to optimise extraction and calculate recovery, throughput, operating cost per tonne, power consumption and even CO2 emissions,” says Beaton.
“Within IES, you can access models built by the best researchers in the industry, from blasting experts to leaders in comminution, separation and flotation.”
Beaton says the IES system is being used to optimise processing operations by CRC ORE participants BHP, Teck, Anglo American and AngloGold Ashanti at mines in Australia, South America, Canada and Africa.
In one example, IES helped improve the profitability of Anglo American’s Los Bronces mine in Chile by 5-6%.
“This is significant for the mine and for the whole industry,” says Beaton.
— Brendan Fitzpatrick