In Western Australia’s Pilbara iron ore mines, a fleet of robot trucks are moving more than a billion tonnes of dirt and rock. The giant trucks carry 350 tonnes in every load. They’ve been developed over the past decade in partnership with Komatsu.
“Rio Tinto and Japan’s Komatsu came together to produce not just the robots but a technology that is immensely useful to Rio Tinto.
Putting those things together has produced a fantastic result,” says Tetsuji Ohashi, the CEO of Komatsu.
“Mining in the future is all about moving lots and lots of material more efficiently,” says Michael Gollschewski, the MD of Rio Tinto’s Pilbara mines.
“Today we’ve got controllers sitting in the operation centre in Perth, overseeing 72 autonomous trucks 1500 km away in the Pilbara across three different sites. It’s amazing,” he says.
A cheap and simple material, using sulphur from petroleum industry waste and plant oils from the food industry, is being tested to clean up mercury pollution from soil and water.
The rubbery material will undergo field tests in 2017 in Australian mining and sugarcane sites, the latter of which use fungicides that contain mercury. The work is supported by funding from the National Environmental Science Programme’s emerging priorities funding.
American mines are safer and more efficient thanks to Australian technologies
‘Blood tests’ for big machines
Mining companies across America are increasing the reliability of their trucks, diggers, and other big machines, and saving hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.
They’re giving these big machines regular health tests and comparing the results with a global database for that machine.
The result? They’re fixing machines before they break. This preventative health system was developed by an Australian company, Dingo, which now has 40 people working at its bases in Denver, Brisbane, and Calgary.
Statisticians have revealed the surprising source of dust that plagues townships beside a Hunter Valley rail line delivering coal to Newcastle’s busy port.
Airborne dust increases as trains pass. But it wasn’t clear exactly how—for example, whether the dust was escaping uncovered coal wagons or coming from the diesel engines pulling the wagons. The answer was surprising.
Mathematicians from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers correlated air-pollution data against information on passing trains and weather conditions.
Zircon, the oldest mineral on the planet, is helping geologists understand how Earth started out and how it continues to evolve. By better understanding the Earth’s structure, mining companies have been able to find new mineral deposits.
“Most of the mineral deposits that are exposed on the surface of the planet have already been found and mined, but we need to find the ones that are still hidden,” Dr Elena Belousova says.
She and her colleagues at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Core to Crust Fluid Systems have developed TerraneChron®, a tool that looks at zircons found in geological samples, such as rocks or sand in river beds, to find out when they crystallised.
Graeme Jameson’s technologies use trillions of bubbles to add billions of dollars to the value of Australia’s mineral and energy industries.
Graeme took flotation, a century-old technology developed in Broken Hill, and transformed it. A turbulent cloud of minute bubbles are pushed through a slurry of ground-up ore where they pick up tiny mineral particles and carry them to the surface.
A radical flotation technology has earned Australia over $4 billion in mineral exports each year by improving mineral particle recovery from wastewater.
Chemical engineer Graeme Jameson, AO, of the University of Newcastle, developed the technology, which was first used in mineral processing plants and is now being applied to other industrial practices.
Drivers of trucks, dozers, graders and excavators at Australian mines could soon be saved from the risks of fatigue by their headgear.
Incidents on mine sites caused by tiredness are a significant cause of injuries and deaths, and cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars in lost production and accidents each year. So Dr Daniel Bongers at the Cooperative Research Centre for Mining (CRCMining) in Brisbane has invented a SmartCap, fitted with sophisticated sensors which can “read” the brain’s nerve activity through hair and detect the level of fatigue of the wearer.
Imagine printing your own room lighting, lasers, or solar cells from inks you buy at the local newsagent. Jacek Jasieniak and colleagues at CSIRO, the University of Melbourne and the University of Padua in Italy, have developed liquid inks based on quantum dots that can be used to print such devices and in the first demonstration of their technology have produced tiny lasers. Quantum dots are made of semiconductor material grown as nanometre-sized crystals, around a millionth of a millimetre in diameter. The laser colour they produce can be selectively tuned by varying their size.
High tech cling wraps that ‘sieve out’ carbon dioxide from waste gases can help save the world, says Melbourne University chemical engineer, Colin Scholes who developed the technology. The membranes can be fitted to existing chimneys where they capture CO2 for removal and storage. Not only are the new membranes efficient, they are also relatively cheap to produce. They are already being tested on brown coal power stations in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley, Colin says. “We are hoping these membranes will cut emissions from power stations by up to 90 per cent.”