Anglo’s Technology Summary Part 2
In May, Anglo American’s provided a technology update for its global operations which was presented by Tony O’Neill, the Group Technical Director. The presentation received some media attention but there was a lot of information to process which means some of the more interesting bits might have been missed. The presentation is a great example to show where the industry is going in terms of its automation efforts.
Last week we outlined in part one of our summary –
- Anglo’s proprietary Voxel software, an integrated end-to-end data solution that supports its digital transformation in every aspect of their business.
- Anglo’s P101 operational improvement program includes specific initiatives focused on delivering industry leading performance and productivity across all the company’s key plant and equipment.
In part two of our summary, we will focus on the FutureSmartMining program that Anglo has been working on since 2017. Anglo wants a more precise and sustainable pathway for the industry that would achieve profitability and sustainability. The idea of the FutureSmartMining program is to reduce the environmental footprint from new ways of mining, by using precision mining technologies and data analytics, which will help the company to meet its goals of creating a business that is both profitable and sustainable.
FutureSmartMining is focused on 4 core areas – Concentrating the Mine, the Intelligent Mine, the Modern Mine, and the Water-less Mine.
Concentrating the Mine
The goal is to increase precision in mining, with minimal energy, water, and capital intensity. Anglo is applying technologies that more precisely target the desired metals or minerals, delivering greater than 30% reductions in the use of water, energy and capital intensity, and producing less waste in the process. This includes coarse particle recovery, bulk sorting and ultra fine recovery.
- Bulk Ore Sorting– It is normal that ore grades are unevenly distributed in an orebody. Anglo’s plan is to use ore sensing technology immediately after the blast so that obvious waste can be rejected instead of processing it through the plants. The result is that higher grade ore goes through the plant which then allows the plan operators to speed up the mining rate to make sure that the plant is kept full. In an ideal situation you can reject up to 40% of the mass for a 20% upgrade. Anglo has already completed demonstration units at El Soldado, Mogalakwena and Barro Alto which are now converted into production units. The next roll out will be Los Bronces between 2021 and 2023.
- Coarse Particle Recovery – CPR uses hydro-float recovery in order to recover metal at larger particle sizes. This means that the particles spend less time in the mill which allow the plant operators to increase throughputs by up to 20%. Since particles are large, and when used in conjunction with hydraulic dry stacking, Anglo is able to recover more than 85% of the water. El Soldado unit is currently being commissioned, the Mogalakwena unit will be up and running towards the end of the year, and rollouts at Los Bronces and at Minas-Rio will start in the near future.
- Hydraulic Dry Stacking – By using the sand created from the coarse particle recovery, Anglo can create a sandwich-like structure with layers of sand and conventional tailings. The water from the fine tails drains through the sand layers and the company can recover more than 85% of the water. What is left is a stable dry stack that can be repurposed for other uses. Currently, the company is constructing a full-scale demonstration unit at El Soldado and is sharing the experience with regulators.
- Microwave – Microwave is a new technology that creates differential heating which causes stresses and micro fractures in the rock. The result is that rocks soften and melt quicker, resulting in increased throughput. An added benefit is that the rocks tend to break along the ore grain boundaries meaning that liberation becomes easier. The company is currently looking to roll out a unit in the Los Bronces pebble circuit.
- Hydrogen Truck and Plant – Anglo is focused on achieving its de-carbonisation targets by 2030 which means displacing 1.5 billion litres of diesel that is consumed each year. The company will use green energy to power their operations and then take the excess power to generate hydrogen on-site. Anglo is currently building the world’s largest fuel cell powered vehicle. The fuel cell battery combination has been constructed and is currently under test. The aim is to roll out at seven sites before 2030 with the first being Mogalakwena, in 2024.
The goal is to take the vast quantities of data being generated and transform it into predictive intelligence that can be used to create safer, fully integrated, systemized and self-learning operations. Anglo is building a digital ecosystem through sensors and artificial intelligence that can be used accelerate a range of processes, beginning with ore body characterisation. This is already being done through its proprietary Voxel software, digital twins, and Advanced Process Controls. The latter has allowed Los Bronces to achieve an 8% absolute energy reduction across three SAG mills and a 12% reduction in specific energy consumption.
The goal is to create a safer mine through the use of technologies and improving processes. This includes using existing modernisation technologies, like electro-hydraulic drills, and by removing scraper winches. The goal is to move operators from the face and deliver efficiencies in continuous mining at depth through advancements in hard rock cutting. By using automated and continuous rock-cutting vehicles, Anglo can target ore deep underground without the need for explosive blasting. These innovations make it possible to mine lower grade ores and complex mineralogy, creating a safer and more productive environment, with lower operating costs.
The goal is to take work that is being done in “Concentrating the Mine” to create a clear pathway to the Water-less Mine. Anglo has identified that 75% of its assets are in water constrained areas which means there is a real need to reduce dependency on water and associated tailings facilities.
- Coarse Particle Recovery will be a large part of this effort which allows water to be released from the much coarser particles, which improves energy efficiencies and water savings by ~30%.
- Novel Leaching will also be important. Leaching is the least energy intensive method of processing, it has significantly lower water consumption compared to conventional concentrator processing. In the past, this technology was restricted by recoveries (within the 40-60% range). Novel leaching explores new leaching systems that will enable Anglo to be more specific in how they target minerals through the leaching process, significantly enhancing recoveries (i.e. 80 – 90%) in lower grade ores.
Most mining companies today are facing similar circumstances. They need to deal with lower grades of ore, at extreme depths, while improving their environmental footprint through the better use of water and energy.
It is clear from the recent update that Anglo is putting in place the technologies that it believes will help it’s operations achieve long-term profitability and sustainability. The company is obviously getting better at discovering new technologies and taking them through the development cycle and then embedding them into their operations. The pace in which they have accelerated their efforts and future plans is impressive to say the least.
Mining technology and service companies can take a lot from this update. We know that many for these same innovations will be required from other miners who are facing the same difficulties in their operations. By looking at what Anglo has done, suppliers can use it as a roadmap to position themselves and their technology.
The success of suppliers introducing their technology will depend on whether the technology can be priced in a way that the value proposition makes sense for the mining companies, whether the technology and data can be integrated into the overall digital ecosystem that the mining companies are implementing, and lastly, does the technology work on-the-ground in an operational setting.
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