Game Changer? New Non-Blasting Technology Could Automate Mining, CEO Says

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Written by Dana Sanchez

New South African mining technology has the potential to automate the gold mining industry and save money on labor costs, said Harmony Gold CEO Graham Briggs in a report in MiningWeekly.com.

The non-patented technology removes only gold ore without blasting, then backfills the bored-out area, eliminating the need for drilling and thus reducing the impact of seismicity, which makes mines safer, the company says.

AngloGold Ashanti, which spent $30-million to $40-million on the new nonblast technology, says it believes it has the potential to double its 30-million-ounce reserve.

After being successfully piloted at AngloGold Ashanti’s Tau Tona gold mine, the technology is being migrated to the Kopanang mine.

Briggs said the “game-changing” technology could double the life of Harmony Gold’s Kusasalethu mining operation near Carletonville, where the volume of orebody locked up in pillars is the equivalent of the volume that will be mined there in the next two decades-plus.

The pillars, which are gold bearing, play a critical structural support role during mining and are left in position after mining, the report said.

Harmony Gold, South Africa’s third-largest gold-mining company, already used backfilling techniques at it Bambanani gold mine in the Free State.

AngloGold Ashanti, South Africa’s largest gold-mining company, said it has decided against patenting the technology so it can be implemented across the gold- and platinum-mining industries.

“This could double the kilograms of gold from Kusasalethu,” Briggs said, adding that the technology could play a significant role at virtually all of its other operations and also at ultra-depth as it leapfrogs over mechanization into automation.

“In fact, at ultra depth, the technology may be the only solution,” he said, adding that extending the life of the South African gold mining industry was critically important given gold’s contribution to the economy as the country’s largest single export, and its knock-on employment effect, which touched the lives of more than 1.5-million local people.

Bringing out “all of the gold, only the gold, all the time” improves gold grading and allows mining to take place 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, Briggs said.

In the year ending June 30, Harmony Gold reduced “corporate and services costs” by about $45 million and expects to lower capital expenditure by $65 million in the following year, the report said.

The  37 000-employee, Johannesburg Stock Exchange-listed company said it produced 2 percent less gold in the last financial year, attributed to miners on strike, and failed to record a profit for the last six months.

Labor unrest more than halved Kusasalethu’s gold output for the year through June 30. Other mines fared better.

Labor relations remain volatile, the report said..

Harmony is selling 30 percent of its Phoenix tailings business in the Free State to broad-based black economic-empowerment shareholders, which include Sikhuliso Resources, Kopano Resources, Masincazelane Investments, the Malibongwe Women Development Trust and a community trust the company has created.