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A monthly publication devoted to scientific transactions and specialist technical topics is unlikely to be on the priority reading list of the majority of the mining and metallurgical community. But it is the ambition of the Publication's Committee to make the Journal of much wider interest to our general membership from technician trainees to mine managers to CEO's of our constituent companies. It is to entice general readership that some 1200 words of valuable space are devoted to the Journal Comment each month. This is intended to highlight some of the features and impact of the papers to excite and activate attention.

To entice this preliminary glance before confining the publication to the book shelf or even the wpb, the author has to call on a large measure of journalistic licence in style, titles and quotations. It is essential to be spicy, controversial and even provocative to separate it from the abbreviated authoritative but necessary scientific style of the bulk of the contents.
The Journal Comment aims to be an enticement to dig into some important feature of the papers in the issue. For this reason it has been decided to include it as a separate item on the Institutes Web Site. This might provoke those who enjoy twittering, blogging and googling to submit comment and criticism, all of which will be welcomed and responded to. At least it is proof that somebody has read it.
R.E. Robinson

Developing the South African PGM Industry

South Africa is truly blessed with platinum group metal (PGM) reserves with approximately 90% of the world reserves according to Merchant Research and Consulting. South Africa is a major supplier of the PGMs, namely Pt (74% of world supply), Pd (39%), Rh (82%), Ir (81%), and Ru (90%) in 2021, according to SFA Oxford. These figures are likely to increase depending on the situation in Russia, which is the world’s largest producer of palladium.

Unfortunately, the old Achilles Heel of the South African minerals industry also affects PGMs: the lack of beneficiation and value addition. PGMs are used in a surprisingly wide variety of industrial applications and therefore opportunities exist to better exploit our vast reserves for the benefit of the country.

By far the most widely known industrial application of PGMs (especially Pt, Pd, and Rh) is in auto-catalysts to reduce harmful emissions. However, with the expected decline in the use of internal combustion engines in the near future, there are some concerns for the future of PGMs as industrial materials. The silver lining is that the most likely replacements for internal combustion engines, namely electric vehicles, offer new potential opportunities for PGMs. Indeed, the much-hyped ‘hydrogen economy’ is seen as being of major importance to the PGM industry. PGMs are a key component of electrolysers in hydrogen production and catalysts in fuel cells. South Africa has identified the Hydrogen Economy as being crucial and the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) recently launched the ‘Hydrogen Society Roadmap for South Africa’. In this roadmap, the important role of PGMs is described in detail.

Apart from catalysts and hydrogen economy applications, PGMs are used in other industrial applications. In order to address the future needs of these applications in South Africa, the DSI has tasked Mintek to prepare a South African Platinum Group Metals Industry Roadmap (SAPGMIR). This forms part of the DSI’s Precious Materials Development Network of the Advanced Materials Initiative.

A survey by stakeholders in the PGM Industry identified the top six applications that should be focussed on for PGM beneficiation in South Africa, namely:

  1. Hydrogen Economy (fuel cells, hydrogen production)
  2. Catalysts (automotive and other)
  3. Batteries (battery storage, solar photovoltaics, lithium sulphur batteries and lithium ion batteries)
  4. Recycling (hydrometallurgical or pyrometallurgical processes)
  5. Additive manufacturing and powder metallurgy (industrial and jewellery)
  6. Medical/biomedical (cancer drugs, neuromodulation devices, pacemakers, diagnostic instruments, catheters, defibrillators, stents, surgical equipment, alloys).

The SAPGMIR is planned to be launched in the next few months and will ensure that the future of PGMs is not only determined by the hydrogen economy.

It is important that all stakeholders embrace these roadmaps to ensure beneficiation and value addition in the South African PGM industry. Government, mining companies, industry players, academia and science councils, and other initiatives such as the OR Tambo Special Economic Zone and The Platinum Incubator (TPI) all have crucial roles to play. Collaboration is the key for catalysing the future of PGMs in South Africa!

H. Möller
Chief Engineer,
Advanced Materials Division, Mintek

From Acronyms to Energy

The first thing that struck me when I read through the abstracts of the papers in this edition was that they are all the work of authors who are based in South Africa. This is a wonderful illustration of the capabilities that exist in South Africa to serve the mining and metallurgical industry.
A wide range of subject matter makes for some challenging reading, with topics that cover artisanal mining, continuous casting in steelmaking, mine design, procurement, exploration drilling, and tailings storage facilities.

I have become increasingly aware of the use of abbreviations and acronyms when reading any technical literature and I illustrate this with information that comes from Drax, a power generating facility near Selby, North Yorkshire, not too far from where I live in the UK.

Drax Power Station ( was constructed in the late 1960s and it produces about 6% of the UK’s electricity. It has six boilers, four of which have now been converted to burn biomass instead of coal. The biomass is wood pellets that are sourced from the USA and Canada and shipped to the UK and then railed to the power station. Drax burns in the region of 8 Mt/a of wood pellets.

Drax is the home of the largest decarbonization project in Europe and is now the site of innovation for bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), a negative emissions technology essential for fighting the climate crisis.

It was the BECCS acronym that hit me when I looked at the Drax website while I was trying to gain a better understanding of Drax’s biomass operations. I have since been drawn into a state of confusion!

A press release dated 15 December 2021 states that:

  • ‘ Drax has approved a further investment in the development of its Yorkshire carbon capture project that will see Worley commence work on the Front-End Engineering and Design (FEED) phase.
  • ‘ [The] Contract is part of a 2022 capital investment programme of around £40m that includes site preparation works for BECCS and decommissioning of coal infrastructure following the end of Capacity Market obligations at the end of September 2022
  • ‘ BECCS is seen as an essential technology to tackle climate change with the project at Drax set to capture and permanently lock away at least eight million tonnes of CO2 a year ... ’

The UK’s largest power station is looking for a new subsidy. Drax’s £10 billion of subsidies to burn wood for power will come to an end In 2027, and with it Drax’s means of generating profit. In order to continue operating past 2027, Drax plans to build the world’s first bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) plant. By capturing the carbon emissions of wood burned for electricity and storing them under the North Sea, Drax intends to generate the negative emissions the UK is reliant upon to reach national climate targets, and would seek to be rewarded for this through new public subsidy.

Drax received more than £800 million in biomass subsidies from the UK government (British taxpayer) in 2020 - with no obvious climate benefit. However, critics suggest that the scientific consensus on ’sustainable’ biomass may soon change.

‘ Recent science demonstrates that burning forest biomass for power is unlikely to be carbon neutral – and there’s a real risk that it’s responsible for significant emissions.’ Ember Chief Operating Officer Phil MacDonald stated.
‘ Before the government spends more taxpayer money on biomass, we should make sure we know we’re getting the emissions reductions that we’re paying for.’

It would be interesting to see an energy balance that details the energy consumed for the production of the wood pellets plus the energy required to transport, ship, and rail the pellets to Drax. In other words the energy input cost to Drax and compare it to the energy output cost.

It seems to me that the Drax story has a long way to go, and all this because of my interest in an acronym!

D. Tudor

More research and funding needed for mineral processing

SamSpearing 27012022Mining is essential to our life on Earth, but our mineral resources are not renewable and are being depleted rapidly. We will need to recycle more and more minerals and move towards a circular mining economy, in order to meet future demand. This is easy to state but very difficult to achieve in practice, and will need global coordination in a world where we are sadly becoming more polarized and radical.

It is well known that mineable mineral deposits are becoming deeper, more remote, and with lower grades. On the positive side the 4th and 5th Industrial Revolutions will benefit the mining industry the most as we design, build, and operate in ’naturally variable and failed’ material (rock). Real-time monitoring, automation, artificial
intelligence, and robotics will help make mines much safer as people will be removed from the advanced faces, and much more productive. The skills levels required will also increase dramatically as the mining industry will need computer scientists, mechatronic engineers, instrumentation designers, and technicians to name just a few. Cyber-security will become absolutely essential due to the potential dangers of robotic equipment being hacked.

The resolutions and emission goals for 2030 and 2050 proposed at the recent Conference of the Parties (COP 26) in Glasgow, Scotland, while essential for the global environment, will enormously increase the demand for mainly battery minerals such as copper, nickel, lithium, and graphite. No consideration has been given to how these demands will be met, and the lead time for new mines is 5 to 10 years at least.
Considerable research is being undertaken in the fields of ‘green’ and ‘smart’ mining, but I believe that not enough is being done in the field of mineral processing. Specialized metallurgical engineering programmes are being closed globally and absorbed into mainly chemical engineering programmes. This makes financial sense due to low enrolments in metallurgy programmes, but specific and focused courses are essential for at least postgraduate studies and upskilling.

Research areas that I think need more research and implementation include:

  • Grade control (geometallurgy) – the benefits can be achieved in the short term and can have an immediate effect on most metal mines. It is strange that few mines have investigated the potential real benefits of this.
  • Urban mining – specifically of electronic devices, in which the gold and rare earth grades are higher than most orebodies. This also carries significant environmental benefits.
  • Water conservation and protection – reducing fresh water use is essential and can be achieved by more recycling, lower tonnages processed, and the development of less water-intensive processes.
  • Dry processing – water is a scarce resource and mining competes with other industries, agriculture, and domestic use. Is an important research field that is not a simple task, but should be an area of research focus due to the massive benefits.
  • Energy conservation – mines are traditionally energy-intensive, especially for ore comminution. Efforts must be made to reduce total energy consumption and use more green energy.
  • Waste reduction and repurposing on surface – mining produces the largest amount of waste of any industry, and this must be significantly reduced. This can be achieved by maximizing backfilling underground and trying to repurpose the remainder of the waste.

Most of the above are obviously interrelated.

For the mining industry to succeed and help meet the demands of society, more investment into processing is required. International research cooperation is also vital as it tends to generate solutions faster, more efficiently, and at a lower cost.

Prof A.J.S. (Sam) Spearing
School of Mines China University of Mining & Technology


Mine-impacted Water

South Africa has one of the most prominent mining industries in the world. The country saw a boom in the mining industry in the late 19th century with the drivers being gold and diamond mining, followed soon after by coal mining, then PGM processing. Today, gold, PGMs, and coal mining continue to make significant contributions to the economic and social development of the country. Despite the criticality of mining to the growth and development of South Africa and other nations across the globe, the industry is associated with process  challenges and legacies of environmental impact, one of which, is the issue of mine-impacted water.

Mine-impacted water is considered to be one of the main pollutants of surface- and groundwater in many countries that have historical or current mining industries and its potential effects on natural resources, communities, and human health have become increasingly evident. Mine-impacted water has long been regarded as one of the most serious and pervasive challenges facing the mining and minerals industry. While a wide range of technologies are being developed for preventing the generation of, and the control and remediation of, mine-impacted water, most of these approaches consider it a nuisance that needs to be quickly disposed of after minimum required treatment, in line with the legislation of that particular country. However, recently, there has been an emerging paradigm shift towards environmental responsibility and sustainable development. Thus, studies focusing on sustainable treatment technologies, value recovery from the waste solutions, mining closure practices, and legislation to mitigate potential future challenges arising from mine-impacted water have become predominant.

One of the best approaches to dealing with mine-impacted water is to consider it as a valuable resource and look at the recovery of clean water to satisfy the needs of a variety of mining and non-mining users. Since South Africa is a water-scarce country, this is a more practical and applicable approach to the problem. The production of other valuable and saleable by-products such as metals and salts that could be used to offset some of the operational costs is also being considered. In fact, recycling, and re-use of water and the recovery of value products is one of the emerging pragmatic approaches to mitigating the challenges associated with mine-impacted water.

It is at events such as conferences, workshops, and seminars that stakeholders can share unbiased, state-of-the-art expertise and knowledge, novel solutions and approaches, technical knowhow, and advocacy with respect to the legacy of, and sustainable solutions related to, mine-impacted water. Such events can help inspire and accelerate some of the work being done by all interested stakeholders on sustainable and holistic ways to deal with the issue of mine-impacted water. The papers in this edition of the Journal reflect some of the discussions arising from the conference held in November 2020.

The conference, which was organized by the SAIMM in collaboration with the University of the Witwatersrand, Mintek in South Africa, and RWTH Aachen University in Germany, attracted speakers and authors from a number of countries such as South Africa, the UK, Germany, Nigeria, Zambia, Serbia, and Belgium. The idea of the conference was born from a collaborative project between Wits University through the School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering and the Institute IME Process Metallurgy and Metal Recycling at RWTH Aachen University, which was sponsored by the National Research Foundation in South Africa and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in Germany. Since the issue of mine-impacted water is going to be with us for a long time to come, we foresee more such conferences being organized in the future by these well-known higher education and research institutions in collaboration with the SAIMM on a regular basis.

It is my greatest wish that you all enjoy reading the papers in this edition of the Journal, and I hope that you will benefit from some of the ideas presented by the authors.

S. Ndlovu
Professor of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering
DSI/NRF SARChI Chair: Hydrometallurgy and Sustainable Development
School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

Some incentives for peer reviewers

Welcome to another edition of papers about the SAMCODES and of general interest.

Every article published in the SAIMM Journal goes through a rigorous peer reviewing process and is reviewed by at least two independent reviewers who are experts in their fields. Peer reviewing is a widely accepted procedure for evaluating the validity, quality, and originality of academic work, and is done on a voluntary basis in scholarly publishing. It is a time-consuming exercise, and sometimes it is difficult to find researchers to undertake peer reviewing as the SAIMM Journal covers a wide range of topics. Although most academics do peer reviewing as part of their scholarly activities, nevertheless it is important to recognize peer reviewers for their contribution to improving the quality and integrity of the Journal.

The Editorial Board of the SAIMM Journal has been working on new ways to reward peer reviewers. Hence, it was decided to recognize peer reviewers by awarding them the following incentives:

  • Letter of thanks: After each completed review, the reviewer will receive a ‘thank you’ letter in the form of an email.
  • Certificate of acknowledgement: Every reviewer will be issued each year with a signed SAIMM Journal certificate showing how many reviews he/she completed in that year.
  • Annual list of peer reviewers: The names of the reviewers who participated in the peer reviewing process will be published every year. The Journal also acknowledges the top peer reviewers annually on the website and at the AGM.
  • Discounts on conference attendance: A 20% discount will be granted to reviewers for one SAIMM conference of their choosing.

There are some other incentives which are currently being considered, and these will be communicated to our readers as soon as they become a part of our initiative.

Enjoy the September edition of the Journal!

B. Genc

Research and its qualities

On a summer day at the University of Chicago several years ago Larry McEnerney, then Director of the University’s Writing Program, gave a lecture on ‘The craft of writing effectively’. It was to a class of graduate students in the social and natural sciences. From the outset, McEnerney challenged widely held views on writing. Writing, he said, is mistakenly taught as a process governed by rules. ‘Stop thinking about rules; start thinking about readers’ and ‘use writing to help [one]self think’, he urged the class. McEnerney then identified the most important quality that marks all effective writing. But he did so only after he had ticked off qualities that we all readily attach to good writing:

‘Yeh, your writing needs to be clear. Sure, [it] needs to be organized . . . to be persuasive. But more than anything else [it] needs to be valuable’ [my emphasis].
As he ticks off each quality, McEnerney writes it on the blackboard. Each quality sits above the preceding one; valuable, unlined, stands out at the top of the list. To emphasize the point he ends, ‘The other stuff doesn’t matter if it is not valuable’.
Writing in some form—as a report or an academic paper, for example—closes off most bodies of research that we undertake. It is no coincidence, then, that the defining quality that McEnerney attaches to effective writing is echoed in effective or good research. That echo reverberates in the question, ‘What is research?’, or more specifically, ‘What characterizes good research?’ There are, however, different pitches to the echo depending on who you are. To hear them one needs to clarify research in the context of the SAIMM and its membership.

The Institute serves three engineering disciplines—mining, extractive metallurgy, and physical metallurgy or allied branches in material science. These disciplines divide the Institute along lines of subject. Another division cuts across these lines, setting members apart within their disciplines. This is the division that separates engineers in industry from academics at universities. It is marked, but it is not impervious: some members—a minority—may switch ‘camps’, even temporarily, depending on whether the problem at hand is framed by an industrial or academic/scholarly need. Being a member of one or other camp is not in itself grounds for discrimination. What is important, however, is the different sense each camp attaches to what is valuable in research. We all know that, as a rule, engineers in industry place value on practical applications. They will view research favourably if it cuts costs or brings in profit; if it introduces measures that secure the safety of workers or that reduce harm to the environment; or if it raises productivity, improves efficiencies, or sets out new possibilities. Value here also has a dimension in time: the value of research might well change when judged in the short, medium, or long term. These values inform research conducted in industry. One thinks of what passed/passes as research at the former Anglo Research and at Mintek. They also inform, and this is far-reaching, the engineer as reader—‘value lies with the reader’ is a point that McEnerney makes. Here we face a dilemma that lingers at the core of the Journal of the SAIMM: many of the papers published in the Journal are written by academics, who invoke a different set of criteria, including a different sense of value, when judging the worth of a paper. Their papers will reflect these criteria, and this will not sit comfortably with the other group, which is also the larger.

Compounding this problem between camps is a blight within the academic camp. To appreciate it we need to take stock of how academics view research. What for the academic constitutes ‘good’ research, where ‘good’ refers to a standard? (I am discounting the notion of excellence, which connotes ‘excelling’—pre-eminence or superiority—and therefore practices of comparison and performance.) All of science is marked primarily by asking questions. Good science or research asks questions of significance, questions that address a key, if not fundamental, concern, questions that look for insight. Nothing is trivial about them—profound might be no exaggeration: In the beginning is the question. Value for the academic consists primarily in the ‘reach’ of these questions. That is not to say that industry does not ask significant questions. Its questions differ not by degree but in class. Questions are less likely to be fundamental than applied, they are less about understanding fundamental processes than about feasibility at the industrial scale. Business and industrial criteria frame the applied category; it is they that impart significance to the questions asked. Not so in academia. Asking the right question is what some academics call ‘Research, with a capital R’. There is no algorithm, rubric, or procedure to finding that question. It is up to chance. One can stack the odds, however; for chance, in Louis Pasteur’s memorable phrase, ‘favours the prepared mind’.

Not only is finding the right question difficult, but preparing one’s mind is hard work, and that contributes to the poor quality of many papers produced at universities. This quality reflects inferior research. The greater part of preparing one’s mind is reading extensively, both within and without one’s field of study. The effort is huge. That we understand English brings little comfort. But not knuckling down to the effort is only part of the problem. The other part is the element of blissful ignorance. The English historian Eric Hobsbawm, in an interview with Simon Schama, a fellow historian, summed it up poignantly when he despaired of historians’ (read engineers’ and researchers’) ‘using the by-products, not the thinking’. What are the by-products of our profession? I suggest they consist in two activities that, properly engaged, support good research/Research. They are method and procedure, which is coupled with technique. Method, as implied in the philosophical label ‘scientific method’ and understood by eminent scholars, refers to the logic we use to validate a thesis or hypothesis, to argue a case, or to work to a solution. (Method is not to be confused with methodology, which is the study of method, an activity that exercises the minds of philosophers.) any of the engineers with whom I have engaged have only a passing knowledge of the logical processes they use to arrive at technical answers. At best, they are unaware of how they think but get it right, or they hide behind statistical tests in the mistaken belief that rigour leads to objective truths; at worst, they run foul of the asymmetries and rules in logical structures. Flawed logic calls into question the validity of research. Nevertheless, papers demonstrating flawed logic continue to be submitted for publication. Some of them slip through the net of peer review and make it to press.

Whereas method is abstract and remote for engineers, empirical procedures are concrete and reassuring. They set out which tests will be conducted, how these tests will be run, and the techniques (the instruments) that will be used. How many engineers know that all these activities are governed by theory—theory appropriate to the principles underlying a technique and theory appropriate to the problem that is the object of a study? Yet the Publications Committee receives papers in which procedures and techniques are disconnected from the problem. It is as if understanding (from theory and principles) and judgment have been suspended. But like specious arguments, procedures, techniques and their inscriptions (graphs and tables) display the trappings of science. They dazzle researchers as much as these practitioners hope to dazzle readers. The satirical BAHFest (Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses) plays on this sophistry (much as the Ig Nobel prize ‘celebrates’ ‘trivial questions pursued as research’). The misuse of method and procedure is, I suggest, the ‘by-product’ that, along with asking trivial questions, displaces thinking in poor research.

I have not mentioned communication, the writing of academic papers. It stands apart from questions, methods and procedures in that it does not correlate with good or bad research. Bad writing, however, might well relegate good research to the peripheries of science, if not to oblivion—unless a sympathetic editor, looking through the mist of text and discerning forms of value, gives the authors a chance to redeem themselves.

The papers in this issue of the Journal are not collected around a theme. There may be something here that, consequently, interests a broad section of readers. Ask yourself what value you attach to the point or points of interest you find in any of the papers.

P. den Hoed

†This editorial arose out of introductory remarks I made at a meeting of the Publications Committee in March this year. It owes much to the discussion that followed those remarks. I am indebted particularly to Dick Stacey and Rodney Jones for their thoughts in personal communications following that meeting. I trust that I have not misrepresented them. I have had many hours of discussion with two senior colleagues—Hurman Eriç, Chamber of Mines Professor of Extractive Metallurgy, and David Lewis-Williams, Professor Emeritus of Cognitive Archaeology, both of them at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Every crisis presents an opportunity

It is often said that every crisis presents an opportunity, and Covid-19 is yet another example. The South African mining sector has over recent years initiated discussion and conversation around technology and the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). This comes at a time where South Africa’s mining productivity has declined by over 7.6% in the last decade, with two-thirds of the mining output sitting in the upper half of the global mining cost curve. The discussions have always been a challenge, with various stakeholders highlighting the complexity of the South African mineral deposits, particularly the narrow reef deposits of gold and platinum. Another challenge that often arises is the interpretation of what a modern mine should look like in the South African context, as information in the public domain is focused on massive mines and trackless mobile machinery, which excludes a number of operations in the country.

Covid-19 regulations in the South African mining sector have forced the industry to rethink mining as it was previously known, with a reduced number of employees now being permitted on site and constant monitoring of the possible spread of the virus. Mines were forced to think of creative ways around communications and interconnectivity across various points within the mining value chain. These efforts have stimulated the industry to further embrace elements of 4IR such as artificial intelligence (AI) through the mapping of Covid-19 hot-spots, the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, and advanced wireless technologies through the integration of on-mine reporting systems and overall communications.

PWC found that most South African mining companies invest in technology to increase efficiency while lowering costs and improving health and safety. The challenge, however, is that 69% of South African mining companies were considered digital followers, with only 6% being digital champions who have fully integrated their technology. A significant amount of work is still required from CEOs to inspire more confidence within mining companies to allow organizations to be more in the forefront of technology development. This is especially relevant given the nature and uniqueness of some of the gold and platinum mineral deposits.

Although one could argue that some of the changes are not extreme, given where South African operations are with their technology journey, some are extreme – and this is a step in the right direction. Covid-19 has made it more evident that 4IR is more than a necessity: it will be a key enabler for the South African mining sector to take its place in the world of global competitiveness, not forgetting its key roles of safety and environmental responsibility.

K.M. Letsoalo

Sustainable development, digitalization, mineral value chains, and new paradigm shifts

The sustainable development of the Earth’s mineral resources ensures the continuous supply of the raw materials and metals upon which we rely. It is a critical global problem, particularly given the growth of emerging economies and increasing environmental concerns. Digitalization and related advances have facilitated important technological progress and the emergence of several paradigm shifts in the mining industry.

One of these shifts is based on the concept of a mining complex or mineral value chain, introduced to reflect an integrated engineering system. This integrated system manages the quality-quantity and extraction of materials from a group of mines, followed by the treatment of the materials through different interconnected processing facilities to generate saleable products for delivery to customers and/or the spot market. Given its integrated nature, a mining complex is optimized simultaneously in a single mathematical model, integrating all its components to capitalize on their synergies, facilitate multi-source data integration, as well as account for and manage technical risks.

Most technical aspects of a mining complex/mineral value chain are substantially affected by uncertainties (stochasticity) stemming from multiple sources. These range from the materials available in the ground to the operational performance of a mining complex, including the ability to adapt to endogenous and exogenous changes. The effects of uncertainty are compounded by multi-level decision-making. This includes decisions about which materials to extract and when, how to stockpile and/or blend materials, use available processing streams, handle waste, manage capital investments, sequence rehabilitation, and how to transport the various products.

Critical sources of uncertainty in this integrated system include the quality and quantity of materials produced from the mines (material supply uncertainty) and the metal’s spot market price (demand uncertainty). With new technological developments, it is possible to quantify and account for these uncertainties, as well as to assimilate new information collected as a mining complex operates, including data from various sensors. This new information needs to be evaluated and used to update models, forecasts, and further support complex, multi-level decision-making.

To date, new geostatistical simulation frameworks and smart(er) simultaneous stochastic optimization approaches allow us to perform the strategic planning of industrial mining complexes under uncertainty at a new scale of intricacy, not imagined a decade ago. As always, new challenges and opportunities emerge, thus it is hoped that the development of new paradigms will extend to stochastic ’self-learning’ mining complexes. Self-learning will capitalize from developments in artificial intelligence, enabling engineering production systems to learn from operations and respond to new, real-time incoming production information collected by a wide range of online sensors, already available in industrial mining complexes.

New digital technologies and related R&D will continue to create technological step-changes and paradigm shifts to advance the performance of mineral value chains and support the sustainable and responsible development of mineral resources – all new, advanced and exciting developments for both the mining industry and academia.

R. Dimitrakopoulos

A selection of diverse papers

The five papers in this edition cover a wide range of topics from computationally effective stope layouts to the bulk chemistry of critical elements in a waste product. The papers have been submitted by authors from South Africa (2), Canada, Kenya and Germany and I have tried to summarize them here.

The paper by Lohmeier, which examines the potential of copper slag from historic smelting operations at Tsumeb as a source of critical elements, describes the project and case study which was supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

‘Mineral resources and mineral reserves report readability and textual choice’ by Du Toit and Delport recommends the consideration of adding a plain language requirement to improve the informational value of these reports. An awareness that certain textual choices can affect the interpretation of these reports is highlighted.

The research paper by Kiamba et al. on the prediction of rock fragmentation, presents data collected in a case study from two limestone quarries in Kenya. A particular empirical model was selected and shown to be a valuable instrument for pre surveying the impact of varying certain parameters of a blast plan.

The paper on stope layout optimisation by Sari and Kumral from McGill University, Canada, showed that a cluster based iterative approach generates near optimal stope layouts in a computationally effective manner.

Of particular interest to me was the paper on the evaluation of polymer binders for the briquetting of coal fines by a group from the Centre of Excellence in carbon-based fuels. Northwest University. Potchefstroom. A solution as to how to deal with coal fines has dogged and evaded the coal industry worldwide. This topic has been researched extensively over the past 15 years or so and briquettes of an acceptable physical standard can be produced, albeit at a cost. What has yet to be demonstrated is the economic uses for the briquettes and particularly the combustion products and characteristics.

This selection of papers again highlights the diverse nature of the subject matter that the Journal is pleased to publish. Enjoy the read.

D. Tudor

Communication in the Modern Mine

When asked to pen a commentary for the Journal, I felt it important to address the needs and forms of communication in the modern mine. Such communication, in principle, includes the topics of digitalization and personnel communication – both are vital for mine operational efficiency and for mine health and safety purposes. I will connect the two topics rather than comment individually. Two virtual conferences, namely Digitalization in Mining and the International Mine Health and Safety conference, were held recently. Selected papers from both conferences will be published in the Journal in due course.

Digitalization is all about data and how the data is collected, analysed, and used in decision-making. Traditionally in the past, we have relied on data that is collected manually (by a person with an instrument and a notebook) and which is then entered into some form of spreadsheet, for the compilation of reports. In the case of ventilation, geological, sampling, and geotechnical data, these reports are circulated to the requisite levels in the organization. This is a time-consuming exercise. Good reports may flow quickly, while poor reports tend to reside on desks for a long time.

Other data is used for month-end consolidation and reporting. The result is that information upon which decisions are made is usually out-of-date and historical. This includes critical information related to health and safety.

Similarly, verbal communication between personnel is an equally critical component for effective health and safety. However, this is generally limited in terms of language and the communication medium, thereby leading to communication problems, e.g. between individual mine personnel, including senior staff. Printed communications are equally important for health and safety. In these instances, items such as notices, instructions, and precautionary texts needed to convey information or data are required to address the issues of multilingualism and multimedia communication systems. This also requires the ability to read and write.

Digitalization offers us solutions to these concerns with the opportunity for real-time data collection and transmission through installed monitoring systems and instant transmission to control centres and data analytics. This includes environmental monitoring, survey measurement, production data, fleet management, and geological information.

In the case of geological information, most mining companies have implemented the TARP system, which relies on operators elevating problem situations to higher levels for assistance with solutions. In the case of hazardous geological conditions being encountered, it may take several days to reach resolution. In a digital world, however, the situation can be photographed, digitalized, and transmitted instantly to the point where the right decision can be made. The solution is rapidly communicated back to the operator for action.

Most newer operations have fibre optic systems installed well into the mine, and these need to be fully utilized to enhance communication and real-time control.

Data analytics in the control centre allows decisions to be made in real time and on the fly, through competent people appropriately skilled to make these decisions.

The power of artificial intelligence takes the manual drudgery out of data collection and analysis, making time available for people to reach value-adding decisions and be more in control.

Embracing the world of digitalisation will bring about step changes both in terms of more effective communication and vastly improved mine and health and safety in our journey towards zero harm.

A.S. Macfarlane