From 2014 to 2015, copper and copper concentrates exports from South Australia were valued at over $2 billion - making it South Australia's single largest export item in value. Now, The University of Adelaide is set to lead research into advanced technologies for boosting the state's copper production, and develop a globally competitive mining technology services sector in the state.
"There is a large untapped copper resource in the state with total value of known copper resource (with gold as a by-product) at over $800 billion," says Professor Stephen Grano, Director of the University of Adelaide's Institute for Mineral and Energy Resources, who will be director of the new Research Consortium.
"There is a significant potential to increase the rate of commercial exploitation of these resources which would have major beneficial economic impacts for the state. However, there are also significant capital and operating cost hurdles to overcome, due in large part to the geological complexity of the resource."
Professor Grano says the Research Consortium will develop advanced technology to tailor the mining and processing options to specific characteristics of the mineral ore in real-time – an approach known as lean processing. It will allow people to look at copper mining across the whole value chain from the resource in the ground, right through mining and processing, enabling the whole system to be optimised rather than optimising isolated parts.
South Australian copper ores are very complex with many different minerals that are finely interwoven. Processing requires high levels of energy, water and capital.
"The objectives of the Consortium are to address these challenges and opportunities in more sustainable mining, minimising environmental impacts, and to commercialise technological outcomes for global market opportunity," says Professor Julie Owens, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of Adelaide.
"The Consortium will leverage the existing strengths of the partners who will come together to assist in fully unlocking the State's complex resources and building a globally competitive mining equipment and technology services sector in South Australia."
The Research Consortium – Unlocking Complex Resources through Lean Processing – has been granted $4 million over four years by the State Government through its Research Consortia Program under the Premier's Research and Industry Fund, announced yesterday by Science and Information Economy Minister Kyam Maher. This is in line with the State Government's Copper Strategy and objective of tripling South Australia's copper production to one million tonnes a year by 2030.
The University of Adelaide is investing $4.46 million (cash and in-kind) and the remainder will be contributed by a large range of mining sector and research partners, bringing the total to $14.6 million.
The other Consortium industry, government and supporting partners are: BHP, OZ Minerals, AMIRA International, Australian Information Industries Association (AIIA) IoT Cluster for Mining and Energy Resources, Australian Semi-Conductor Technology Company, Boart Longyear, Consilium Technology, CRC Optimising Resource Extraction, Datanet, Data to Decisions CRC, Eka, Innovyz, Magotteaux, Manta Controls, Maptek, METS Ignited Industry Growth Centre, Mine Vision Systems, Rockwell Automation, SACOME, SAGE Automation, Sandvik, Scantech, South Australian Mining Industry Participation Office (SA MIPO), SRA IT and Thermo Fisher Scientific Australia (Processing Instruments & Equipment), with the University of South Australia as a key research partner.
The South Australian Mining and Petroleum Services Centre of Excellence also provided financial support.