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High Voltage Pulse Tech Empowers Smart Mining in Australia

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Researchers at the University of Queensland’s Sustainable Minerals Institute have introduced its cutting-edge innovation, the High Voltage Pulse (HVP) technology, which mimics the effects of a lightning strike to selectively break mineralised ores while leaving barren rocks intact. Spearheaded by Dr Christian Antonio, the project aims to change the way the mining industry by reducing energy consumption and aiding in decarbonisation efforts.

The smart mining technologies market, valued at US$2.1 billion in 2021, is predicted to reach US$9 billion by 2032, with a projected growth rate of 14.3% CAGR. Accounting for 20% of the global smart mining market, this growth is driven by the escalating demand for safety measures and precise decision-making in mining operations. Over the forecast period from 2022 to 2032, the smart mining technologies market is expected to expand at a CAGR of 14.3%, outpacing the 11.0% CAGR observed from 2017 to 2021. Rising concerns regarding safety hazards and operational inefficiencies in conventional mining have intensified the adoption of smart mining solutions like analytics platforms and emission control software, aimed at enhancing planning, analysis, and maintenance processes.

The adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) in mining is transitioning operations from people-oriented to process-oriented, enhancing supply chain management with real-time shipment monitoring, predictive maintenance, and efficient inventory management. This digital integration of mining processes, including automated equipment, modular mobile machines, and advanced analytics platforms, aims to simplify operations and improve decision-making capabilities.

Image credits: The University of Queensland

Dr Antonio explained that mineral processing, a highly energy-intensive aspect of mining, accounts for a significant portion of global energy consumption. The HVP technology offers a solution by enabling the separation of valuable mineralised rocks from barren ones, thereby streamlining processing and conserving energy. Through the targeted application of high-voltage pulses, the technology weakens mineralised rocks while sparing non-conductive barren rocks, resulting in a more efficient process with reduced energy requirements.

HVP technology operates on a principle akin to lightning attractors, directing electric energy towards conductive mineral particles within rocks, thereby disintegrating them as it passes through. This innovative approach electrifies standard mineral processing equipment, enabling simultaneous zapping and sorting of rocks by size, achieving throughputs exceeding one hundred tonnes per hour and fulfilling the requirements of the mining sector.

At the forefront of this innovation is the Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre’s Separation Group at UQ, led by Associate Professor Kym Runge. The group focuses on developing mineral separation processes to enhance profitability and minimise environmental impact, with HVP technology being a primary area of interest.

Associate Professor Runge highlights the considerable industry interest in leveraging this technology to decarbonise mining operations. The group is actively working on building a business case to quantify the benefits of HVP technology for industry partners. Their goal is to design and integrate HVP units into existing processing plants, ultimately demonstrating the technology’s effectiveness through pilot plant installations at sponsor sites.

Funded through the Resources Technology and Critical Minerals Trailblazer program, the research enjoys support from industry partners as well. These partnerships facilitate the development and commercialisation of HVP technology, driving innovation in the mining sector and advancing sustainability goals.

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