Innovations in mining are driven by data, advanced analytics, environment


Have you ever put on someone else’s glasses, or maybe put on an old pair of your own? There is a good chance that your vision is distorted. Things just don’t look the way they should. To see properly, it takes a lot of effort with the wrong set of lenses. Innovations in the mining sector invite us to transform our vision of what we think the industry represents. Although mining practices and environmental regulations have improved dramatically – in the United States, in particular – over the past few decades, the industry is still often watched for “outdated lenses.”

Today, innovations in mining involve artificial intelligence that can predict when transport trucks need maintenance, and virtual mining – using autonomous and auxiliary vehicles and machines and drones that monitor mine sites to ensure worker safety. In addition to evaluating day-to-day mining operations with outdated notions, the safety and environmental implications associated with mining are also mostly archaic.

“We are fortunate to have the most advanced mining technology companies located in Arizona, a world-class minerals program at the University of Arizona, and a large skilled workforce,” said Dr Mary M. Poulton, professor emeritus of mining and geology. engineering and co-director of Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources. “When you combine all of these assets with a focus on protecting the environment and conserving water, Arizona is one of the most responsible mining regions in the world. “

Today’s industry

“Mining is now a highly technical industry focused on innovation, data and advanced analytics,” adds Steve Higgins, senior vice president and chief administrative officer of Freeport McMoRan. “In late 2018, a pilot program launched at our Baghdad mine in northwest Arizona was successful in using data science, machine learning, and integrated functional teams to resolve bottlenecks.

The result, according to Higgins, provided cost benefits and improved overall performance.

“The program has now been implemented in other operations,” he says. “Significant progress has been made in environmental, sustainable and responsible mining practices. “

In its commitment to environmental responsibility, Freeport-McMoRan is a member of numerous industry associations and holds leadership positions in various organizations that provide a platform for advancing sustainability. In fact, due to his leadership, Freeport-McMoRan was instrumental in the development of the Copper brand, an assurance framework developed to demonstrate the responsible production practices of the copper industry and its contribution to goals. of sustainable development.

In addition, Freeport-McMoRan is a founding member of the International Council on Metals and Mining, an organization dedicated to a safe, fair and sustainable mining and metallurgical industry.

Fuel growth

While innovations in the mining industry continue to support sustainable practices, they are also helping fuel growth and demand for renewable energy.

“As a technology hub for mining, Arizona is emerging as the ‘Silicon Valley of mining,’” says Poulton. “And, as more tech companies are drawn to Arizona, more jobs are being created. These companies serve a global mining industry. The University of Arizona helps develop the technologies that are commercialized by these companies and also helps provide the manpower needed to use the technologies.

Poulton provides the example of ASARCO’s designation of land near the Santa Cruz River, near the Mission mine, for a huge solar farm. Solar power not only helps provide some of the electricity for its Mineral Discovery Center, but it also puts energy into the grid to power Tucson homes.

“Most companies have programs to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, ranging from renewables to vehicles, pumps, engines, etc. “The University of Arizona faculty has conducted research programs on the use of different types of solar panels on tailings – solar panels that float and can reduce evaporation (these two were carried out by Dr. Moe Momayez). “

Professors at the University of Arizona also looked at low-temperature geothermal energy to generate electricity and then use the waste heat for activities like heating greenhouses or fish farming, also facilitated by Dr. Momayez, according to Poulton.

As demand for minerals continues to rise, experts can probably predict the advent of more innovative mining technologies and practices, and, as they arise, perhaps those old glasses – and old perceptions of industry – will eventually be withdrawn.


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