The Mining Equipment Technology and Services (METS)

The Mining Equipment Technology and Services (METS) now vies with gold as Australia’s third largest export from the mining sector, behind iron ore and coal. Anyone that thinks Australia’s mining prosperity relies on plain luck and that the country just “shovels stuff out of the ground” displays an astounding level of ignorance. Mining is a knowledge industry and Cooperative Research Centres are making a significant contribution.

This month may signal the official completion as a Federally-funded Cooperative Research Centre for CRCMining, but it marks the beginning of a new phase as a continuing source of innovation for Australia’s mining sector. In fact, CRCMining has become a preeminent source of research and innovation for global mining, in line with the enormous growth of the METS sector. The METS sector provides almost 400,000 jobs across Australia, and contributes more than $90 billion to the Australian economy annually, according to a recent Austmine report.

CRCMining has had an extraordinary record of delivering high impact research to its industry and seems set to continue that record with industry support. Amongst the CRC’s many achievements are the Universal Dragline and Dump technology and Tight Radius Drilling. The fatigue monitoring system SmartCap is currently returning outstanding results at major mines, and the Shovel Load Assist Program has developed three operator-assist technologies to significantly improve safety and productivity. These breakthroughs will deliver benefits in the billions of dollars to the Australian economy.

The CRC Program supports four other CRCs in the mining and energy space: the CO2CRC; the Deep Exploration Technologies CRC; the Optimising Resource Extraction CRC and the Energy Pipelines CRC. Each of these ventures are making significant inroads in improving efficiency, safety and sustainability of the sector.

Mining consumes almost 10 percent of Australia’s electricity, the majority being used in crushing and grinding.  However, 70% of those rocks yield no minerals of value. The CRC for Optimising Resource Extraction (CRC ORE) is focussed on the productivity of this process, which offers the potential for significantly reducing expensive, carbon-intensive electricity. CRC ORE has just entered its fifth year and already has an outstanding history of delivering for industry.  For example, Grade Engineering® focusses on maximising the amount of metal processed by removing waste as early as possible. The economics of large, low grade mining operations can be transformed when yield per tonne is improved and energy and water costs reduced.

When you think about energy in Australia, it doesn’t all travel along electricity wires. A huge and growing amount of energy is in the form of gas, piped over enormous distances. The unprecedented growth and investment in liquified natural gas form (more than $1,200 is being invested per second and will continue for the next five years) underpins the importance of energy pipelines. The Energy Pipelines CRC is not only supporting better and cheaper new pipeline networks, but is helping extend the life of the existing natural gas transmission network and preparing for CO2 pipelines.

The CRC For Green House Gas Technologies (CO2 CRC) is enabling a future where fossil fuels can continue to be used in a carbon constrained world. CO2 captured from industrial processes and power stations will transported by new special pipelines to be injected deep into the ground in secure geological structures.  Carbon capture and storage is not a dream of the future but a current reality. The CO2 CRC was one of the first to recognise the potential for carbon capture and storage and injected 65,000 tonnes of CO2 two kilometres underground in Victoria’s Otway Basin back in 2008 and 2009. Commercial carbon capture and storage is now underway in Australia. For the uninitiated, carbon isn’t injected into ground as a gas – don’t think of it as an enormous burp waiting to belch out – but as a supercritical liquid that is trapped in micro-pores in the deep rocks, by dissolving in saline in the pores or being held as an immiscible super critical fluid that cannot get out of the pores. Ultimately it turns to rock. The technology offers extraordinary opportunities. Those LNG-filled ships could potentially return with excess carbon from Asia to be injected back into depleted basins, earning massive revenue while improving sustainability.

Finding new mineral deposits is of course essential to the future of mining and the Deep Exploration Technologies CRC (DET CRC) is enabling geologists to look deeper, cheaper. The Adelaide-based CRC has recently being deploying technology used on the Mars Rover to conduct analysis at the drill site through its Lab-at-Rig® development. Traditionally, core samples have been sent away for analysis and results are only known months after exploratory drills have moved on. By allowing on-site real-time analysis, the CRC is significantly improving the productivity of exploration as geologist can make a decision to keep drilling or stop drilling on the spot.


 Tony Peacock

CEO, CRC Asscoation