The technology that is fast tracking IGO’s exploration

Posted on October 18th, 2019 in BLOG

Utilising innovative technology to fast-track both the exploration and exploitation of mining sites is the key to success in the modern age, according to IGO (Independence Group) Managing Director and CEO Peter Bradford.

Ahead of Austmine 2019, Austmine sat down with Mr Bradford to get an understanding of some of the drivers of change and the new technologies being implemented successfully by IGO to improve site productivity and outcomes.

With highlights including:

  • The challenge of exploring deeper and larger
  • Opportunities for autonomy in mining & haulage
  • What makes the NOVA mine one of the most exciting in Australia

It has been stated that ‘exploration and discovery is core to the IGO DNA.’ With regards to this, what have been some of the key drivers of change and new technologies utilised in this space in recent years?

From an industry point of view and as it relates to IGO, the biggest challenge is exploring deeper search spaces around our mining activities, so that’s a challenge, and to meet that challenge what we’ve done is explore in some very large areas. We’re exploring under cover, with anything from 20 to 150 metres of sand that we have to look through to understand what the geology is doing.

We’re adopting all of the latest geophysical and geochemical tools to do that, but there is nothing in what we are doing that is too unique, but I think it’s fair to say that we are fast followers. That geophysics, especially EM (electromagnetic), has been a strong suit of IGOs for many many, years, and at various times we’ve been fast followers as we are today, or have been leading edge, and have been developing EM technology in house in collaboration with some of the academic institutions.

Where we see ourselves being going forward is exactly that again, be at the forefront of involving new tools for the understanding of EM. The other area where we’ve been an early adopter is with the 3D seismic as it relates to trying to better understand ground fill systems. 3D seismic is something that has been used in the oil and gas industry for a very long time, and used very successfully, but in hard rock situations we haven’t seen a lot of it until quite recently. Back in 2008 IGO first used it at our Long Mine, and that was one of the very first instances of 3D seismic used in a hard rock environment. We’ve gone on to use it at both Tropicana and Nova, and at Nova last year, we carried out the largest single 3D seismic survey ever undertaken in Australia.

Regarding improved productivity in underground mines, what have been the biggest technological drivers for IGO?

Focussing on NOVA, it’s the one asset that we operate and manage 100 per-cent ourselves. Commercial production commenced there in July 2017, which is only five years following the discover of the project in July 2012 – you can join the dots there and see that this project has been developed very very quickly. Our primary focus through that period has been getting the mine up and running, fully developed, and as we’ve done that, we’ve designed it in such a way that it will allow the easy deployment of technology to drive increased productivity going forward.

We’re now starting to see some of that, so we’re starting to put in place a fibreoptic backbone underground at Nova with a wi-fi system in place, an we’re currently using that to facilitate remote logging from the surface, and in the coming months we will start doing some remote firing using wi-fi. From my understanding, that will be one of the first applications of remote firing over wi-fi systems ever.

How do you see the further adoption of automation changing underground mining?

When we’ve developed a mine, we’ve designed it in such a way that we can quickly deploy technology going forward, but the end game for us is really getting to the point where we can move to more and more autonomous remote drilling underground and autonomous haulage, and our infrastructure there is designed to facilitate that. The obvious benefits are the improvements in safety, we’re not exposing people to the same level of risks they otherwise would have been exposed to if they were manning the equipment, and then we would also expect efficiency and productivity improvements as a result. We’ve got work programs underway on how we could understand how we could implement remote drilling and autonomous haulage at Nova.

IGO’s Nova mine is one of the most exciting projects in Australia, what is the pathway forward for the Nova mine and why is it unique?

It’s one of the few instances of high-grade magmatic nickel sulphide style of mineralisation in Australia. Most of the nickel sulphide mined in the past were a different style, a komatiite style, and this magmatic style is more commonly seen in other jurisdictions such as Canada. So the fact that we’ve got this discovery here, opens up the opportunities for more of that style of mineralisation to be discovered in Australia and in the Fraser Range, so that’s the real exciting opportunity. We are doing a lot of work to understand that potential on the Fraser Range, and doing the exploration for that. The other area where Nova is unique is the quality of the concentrate we make. This is a very clean ore which makes very clean concentrate, which have a high iron to MgO ratio, which is desired by smelters, with very low amounts of deleterious elements like arsenic. Going forward, we’re looking at two parallel pathways to leverage off some of the unique aspects at Nova. One of those is the exploration to discover those extensions to the Nova system, and in fact other systems on the Fraser Range, and the second pathway is the opportunity to do downstream processing of our nickel sulphide concentrate product, to in fact produce a nickel sulphate chemical which is one of the key ingredients of electric vehicle batteries.

When considering the IGO joint venture with AngloGold, how important is it to ensure innovation is included in the business model – and what are the benefits that stem from this?

It’s the same level of importance as the rest of our business, in fact Tropicana has had a long history there of innovation and technology. Through the exploration stage we developed a low-level gold detection in soil technique that was instrumental in the exploration and discovery. We also utilised a high-pressure grinding rolls in the design to reduce overall comminution costs, the crushing and grinding costs, and it’s one of the few mining operations worldwide with a fully integrated Caterpillar Minestar system for controlling the mining activity.

More recently we have adopted a strategic approach to the project using strip mining and in-pit dumping of waste – this is uncommon in hard rock mining industry, you commonly see it in coal mining, but I think this is the first occasion ever where this has been used in a gold mine, worldwide. Going forward, we would continue to look for opportunities, the low hanging fruit there would be potentially leveraging off the Minestar system that we have, and progressing our mining activities through the different stages of automation.

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