Cutting edge practices that are revolutionising the African gold mining scene

Posted on October 18th, 2019 in BLOG

Ahead of Austmine 2019, John Welborn, Managing Director & CEO Resolute Mining, explained some of the technology in the mining sector that the company is taking advantage of at its Syama underground gold mine in Mali, West Africa.

Highlights include:

  • The world’s first, purpose built, fully automated underground gold mine
  • The world’s largest mine site based solar hybrid power supply
  • The increase in skilled local jobs with the advent of automation
  • Lowering costs through technology

Multi-national gold producer Resolute Mining is at the forefront of new technology, with cutting edge practices that are set to revolutionise the African gold mining scene.

Resolute is a successful gold miner with over 30 years of experience as an explorer, developer and operator of gold mines in Africa and Australia.  The Company has operated nine gold mines which have produced more than 8 million ounces of gold.

The Next Step

“Our Syama underground mine is now in the advanced stage of commissioning and is the world’s first, purpose built, fully automated sublevel cave gold mine.” Says John Welborn, Managing Director & CEO of Resolute Mining Limited.

“Syama will be the most sophisticated and advanced gold mine in Africa.  Resolute’s investment in exploration, infrastructure, technology, power and innovation at Syama has transformed a world class orebody into a world class mine.  The Syama underground mine is an achievement that builds on Resolute’s African development experience demonstrated in earlier successes at Obotan in Ghana and Golden Pride in Tanzania and the Company’s underground technical achievements demonstrated in pioneering the sub level shrinkage mining method at the Mount Wright Underground Mine at Ravenswood.

“At Tabakoroni we have built a new open pit mine from scratch, connected it to the processing facilities at Syama via an entirely new 35km haul road and established the infrastructure to support a new long-life gold source for the existing oxide processing plant.  Tabakoroni’s success added to the record Syama quarterly production in the March 2019 quarter.

“We are confident of a long mine life at Tabakoroni because our exploration team has established and extended a significant high-grade deposit beneath the open pits.”

Meanwhile at the Ravenswood mine in Queensland, Resolute is overseeing the transition from underground to open pit mining through the Ravenswood Expansion Project, which is expected to sustain the operation for a further 13 years.

At Bibiani, project execution planning and further refinement of the mining processing strategies is currently ongoing.

Powering to the Future

For Resolute, the future is about being an innovative, multi-mine, low cost, African-focused gold producer.

An example of this is the new site-based solar hybrid power plant at the Syama Gold Mine, the largest of its type in the world.

John said, “The new 50-megawatt hybrid power plant, which includes the latest in solar and battery technologies, will deliver an anticipated 40% saving on power costs and is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2020.

“In addition to providing big benefits to our mining operations, it represents a transformational opportunity to provide meaningful and sustainable value to the communities in this region.”

Evolving Industry

While the mining industry comes from a conservative background, there is an ever-increasing focus on new technology and methods.

John said, “Mining is adopting new ways of thinking, emerging technologies and using data more intelligently; however, there is a long way to go to see change implemented at scale across the industry.

“Transformational change is not about using new technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence (AI) or drones to just improve things; it’s about step change that enables revolutionary improvement across all phases of the mining cycle to create more sustainable value for all.”

“We need to re-imagine the whole mining process and see things from a completely new perspective.  It’s not about incremental improvement, it’s about metamorphosis.  This is what innovation means to me.”

A point in case for Resolute is the technology being implemented at the Syama Mine.

“What we are doing with high technology and fantastic, well controlled automated equipment is we are taking local Malians and teaching them how to operate it.  We are using technology to train, empower and build confidence and capacity in our local communities.  This generational change and opportunity is hugely important and to me an example of something that is truly transformational.”

Future Proofing with Technology

The conundrum for the gold production industry has been to deal with the trade-off between rising costs and diminishing yields.

As the average gold ore grade comes down, miners need to move more ore, which is more costly from an equipment, materials, energy and labour perspective, to produce the same quantity of gold.

Due to rising costs, the gold industry has started to focus on new ways of doing things that improve efficiencies, productivity and help to bring those costs down.

John said, “The use of automation, artificial intelligence, better sensing technology, smart equipment, a focus on more local skilled labour practices and less reliance on expats should all combine to make operations more efficient and productive.

“However, the industry needs to adopt these new ways of thinking and technologies as standard operating procedure, rather than just individual miners adopting this approach.

“The importance of exploration and finding new major discoveries remains critical to the future growth of the industry, especially in emerging geographies like Africa where there is still a lot of un-explored land.

“The future of gold production is much more likely to be sourced from a greater number of new and smaller operations rather than the historic massive mines, like the Kalgoorlie Super Pit.

“How a resource is managed today is critically important – this is reflected in using technology and innovation to improve efficiency, safety and cost outcomes as well as making sure your company has a social license to operate and is delivering meaningful benefits and value creation to all of its stakeholders.”

The Human Challenge

According to John, mining needs to think bigger, create sustainable value and become earlier adopters of new technology.

“Bringing bright young people into the mining industry is an important piece of the future of mining.

“We need to bring young people into the industry with imagination and we need to adopt a genuine investment ethos that rewards people and companies that make bold, new and appropriate investment decisions to be more efficient and create long term value for all stakeholders.”

“It has been noted regularly in the media over the last few years that the mining industry is facing a technical skills shortage in the years to come.

“The tech giants like the FAANG companies offer highly appealing career prospects, amazing work environments and outstanding pay and benefits.

“The mining industry needs to compete more as a high technology industry, not as a traditional hole digging, dirt and rock selling industry.

“We need to attract the young people with skills in maths, analytics, robotics and AI.”

Want more content like this? Sign up to our free e-newsletter and receive more articles like this, savings and other subscriber-worthy incentives.