Get a Glimpse of the High-Tech World of Copper Mining

Get a Glimpse of the High-Tech World of Copper Mining

In Dust Control, Mine & Quarry, Technology by Jim Silva


As copper mining booms, companies are investing in advanced technology to bring in reliably larger hauls.

Buoyed by possible investment from the United States government and rising Chinese imports, copper is currently projected to be the world’s best performing commodity in 2017. As demand for the metal continues to increase, however, the industry confronts some emerging challenges that require innovative solutions. Like so many businesses in other industries, mining companies are turning to recent technological developments for these practices.

Need for Innovation

While still a plentiful resource, high-grade copper has become much more difficult to extract. With some deposits lying more than a mile underground at temperatures of 200 degrees, mining companies need to find new methods of harvesting them.

One such deposit is located in Superior, Arizona, and has attracted the attention of both Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, Ltd. The companies have announced a new initiative, called the Resolution Copper Mining Project, that’s focused on this formidable, untapped deposit in the Grand Canyon State. According to Bloomberg, the companies expect the deposit may yield enough copper “to meet a quarter of the country’s demand” — approximately 100,000 tons a day.

High-Tech Safety

Mining so far below the ground and in such harsh conditions requires innovation and advanced technology. Since the people at the Resolution Project know what a massive undertaking this will be, they’re in the process of developing new methods to make their mining goals a reality.

Firstly, to conduct any operations in the mine, it must be safe to traverse. Proposed within the parameters of the project is an elevator that will ferry individuals down nearly 7,000 feet, where 600 gallons of water a minute will be pumped out of the shaft while a sophisticated ventilation system brings the temperature from 175 degrees Fahrenheit to a tolerable 77. Project leaders also intend to develop even more complex ventilation systems and “autonomous vehicles” in order to facilitate mine access and production.

The companies are also working with equipment firms like Caterpillar and the Komatsu Mining Corp. to develop electric loaders and other battery-powered machines that will be able to function in the tunnels deep underground.

Data Consolidation

Sensors and data are crucial technological components when it comes to unearthing the Superior copper deposit. According to the Wall Street Journal, Rio Tinto has plans to install thousands of sensors throughout the mine, which will supply project managers with plenty of data on metrics like vehicle performance, air temperatures, and the presence of blasts.

This will enable an external team to manage and monitor mine conditions, as data from sensors will be sent wirelessly to one central database in the Rio Tinto network, consolidating the many factors they must keep tabs on into a single dashboard.

Copper’s Future Requires Time and Innovation

This will not be a easy or quick process; the Wall Street Journal reports that the companies aim to have the mine operational by the “mid-2020s” and are spending between $6 billion and $8 billion to make it happen. However, the mechanized nature of project would make operating costs similar to those of a surface mine once it comes online.

That’s not to mention this isn’t the only initiative that’s been launched recently in response to the global scarcity of copper. A Chilean company is experimenting with the use of microbes to help “liberate copper from rocks,” which could prove more efficient and environmentally friendly than traditional methods.

Safety Measures for Mines Today

Regardless of how high-tech a mine may be, additional steps must be taken to ensure both worker safety and operational efficiency. Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc. has developed a variety of products and managed application programs designed to help the mining industry meet government regulations and keep employees safe.

Patented dust control products products like EK35® and EnviroKleen® work to keep particle emissions in mines down, increasing air quality and surface durability. EnviroKleen, a synthetic organic product certified by multiple independent agencies, has been proven to reduce both PM10 and PM2.5 emissions, locking fugitive particles together rather than allowing them to escape into the surrounding environment.

Midwest will work with your team to develop a custom plan that is tailored to your mine’s specific needs and budget, regardless of size, depth, or regulatory requirements.

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Jim is Midwest’s Business Unit Manager for Global Mining. He is experienced in operations management, asset management, and business improvement.