18 March 2014
Although the industry works in a competitive world, some challenges need to be faced together, writes Paul Dowd, Non-Executive Director, Oz Minerals.
It’s a well-known maxim in most industries that whatever competitive advantage one company thinks it may have at any point of time, it will eventually lose at another.
This holds true in mining.
We work in a competitive world, but some challenges need to be dealt with cooperatively.
Increasing energy waste and declining human and technological productivity in the mining sector is now a problem we all have to share.
Australia is the number one mining nation, but productivity has slipped faster and further than many of our competitors. It was recently estimated by the Productivity Commission that our ‘cost of inputs’ required to get product out has increased 300 per cent in the past decade.
Why is this?
Energy costs are the easy explanation, but the problem is more intrinsic to our methods.
We lack ore-targeting intelligence.
We have not developed our manpower base strategically and we have limited means to deal sustainably with the mountains of waste our processes create.
Efficiency per se has not dropped, just outcomes.
Traditionally, comminution – the energy we put in to crush and mill rock – has been expended more on ‘brute force’ than ‘finesse’ and with continued declining grades, comminution energy efficiencies will continue to decline without greater focus on finesse.
We need to jointly invest in nanotechnologies that better discriminate between waste material and mineralised rock.
We have to make greater use of smarter geology using in-situ leaching of minerals.
High speed ore sorting technology will more efficiently classify ore material product into various streams, which can then be assessed for appropriate energy input.
We also need to reduce the substantial amounts of water we currently use to sift through material.............................................