Sensor-based sorting in underground, narrow-reef mining operations: an assessment of key economic drivers

Ross. Bergmann

Published in Proceedings of the IMPC2020 Congress, SAIMM


The concept of underground ore processing, in which valuable ore and waste are separated at a coarse particle size to improve the economics of operations and minimisethe environmental impact, seems attractive from a sustainability perspective. Perceived benefits of such an operation include energy and cost savings due to a reduced hoisting load, a reduced footprint of surface operations, and using material for backfill that has not been contaminated by process chemicals.

Progress in the South African mining industry in this area has however been below expectation, and opportunities for underground processing in deep, narrow reef operations were therefore explored by an Excel-based simulation with sensor-based sorting (SBS) as concentration technology. Various PGM mining scenarios incorporating factors such as the mining rate, depth of operation, and effects of dilution and particle size on the metallurgical efficiency, were compared.

Whilst these initial results can be regarded as indicative only, they have shown that the economics of such an operation are driven by selective mining at significantly higher rates than achievable with conventional methods. Also, the cost of preparing, conveying and placing rock backfill will need to be lower than that of hoisting waste and depositing it on a surface dump.

Another aspect to be addressed is whether ore sorting machines would be able to operate under harsh conditions underground and what provision would need to be made to ensure their efficient operation. Further investigations should focus on refining costs, incorporating environmental considerations in the modelling of economics and sustainability, and compare greenfields with brownfield scenarios.


Ore sorting, hoisting, backfill, mining rate, economics simulation


V. Rossa* and C. Bergmanna

aMineral Processing Division, Mintek, Randburg 2125, South Africa

*Corresponding author: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


The authors gratefully acknowledge Mintek for sponsoring the work and approval to publish this paper.

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