CEEC Thought Leader Series - CEO Alison Keogh interviews Professor Neville Plint

Professor Neville Plint brought some visionary and unique ideas about how we can learn from success together in an interview with CEEC CEO Alison Keogh, and said it is important to actively listen to what communities want before we plan our approach – in other words, to put ourselves in others’ shoes before making key decisions.

He brought truly insightful views on ESG, the major challenges in mining and its footprint, and why across-industry collaboration including through CEEC is critical to get breakthrough ideas to reduce energy, emissions, water and tailings footprint.

Some discussion points included:

  • Medal winning work – collaborate and partner to accelerate actions, build learnings

Professor Plint noted that Dr Ballantyne’s CEEC Medal-winning work has focused on where the most energy is used in the value chain. “Arguably, it’s comminution,” he said. “So how efficiently do we use that energy? That’s a great question to ask. I think a lot of people have published work on how efficient the breakage process is, and the numbers are staggeringly low.

“The question is – if we are very low in that space, how do we improve it, but also how do we compare across the industry? Now, that's where the CEEC work is just brilliant.”

Professor Plint explained that it’s important for researchers to partner with industry to solve big challenges, and CEEC’s work brings the sector together to find the benchmark of an efficient operation. This information can be used to identify what those operations are doing well and what we can learn from that success, and then we can use that information as a basis to shift the whole industry towards greater efficiency.

Ms Keogh agreed: “If you make things more efficient, more productive and more sustainable, that's a win-win for the mining leaders to invest in those changes, to share best practice to benchmark and then to implement that change faster through collaboration.”

  • Mining and Processing – what will the future look like?

Professor Plint also talked about what will mining and processing will look like in the future, and the big changes he sees emerging. In the near term – the next five years – he sees the digital automation drive gaining momentum. “It's going to get more and more sophisticated, and that is going really fast,” he said. “We will see the connectivity across value chain, that optimization.”

He noted that while there will be overall productivity improvement, the companies that don’t implement digital automation technology will be at risk of falling behind.

He added that automation has enabled advances such as miniaturization, selective processing and value chain optimization. He said: “We’ve seen that work coming through from CRC ORE, and I think Hatch is picking up on the great engineering, I think we’re going to see some big efficiency gains from that.”

In the longer term, he sees automation enabling technologies around biological systems. “We’ve seen in other sectors that researching biomimicry and in the biological research is moving ahead really fast,” he said. “I don't think one should underestimate the leaps and advances that have been made because of COVID. These technologies and this capability really do supercharge that biotechnology space, so I would be expecting to see in-situ processes coming through.”

He added that we also could start seeing more technologies such as biomimicry being used in the industry. “It will go to zero footprint,” he said. “We're going to have to think about only extracting what we need to be able to supply this technology's transformation.”