Counting on bigger mining returns

Mining companies need to make long-term strategic plans about how and when to produce raw materials and metals from the ground, despite uncertainty about the mineral deposits to be found there.

Thanks to computational advances over the last decade, McGill Professor Roussos Dimitrakopoulos, Canada Research Chair in Mining Engineering, has developed new mathematical modeling techniques for mine planning and production forecasting that take into account uncertainty in the supply of minerals. The result of this research has been both a much higher return on investment for the mining companies but also more metal production from the same asset.

Now, thanks to a Collaborative Research and Development Grant of $2.7 million spread over five years from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and co-funded by six major global mining companies, Dimitrakopoulos will be able to build upon earlier research to produce global mine-optimization models which will be able to factor in uncertainty in all aspects of mine management in order to determine the best production schedules. The companies involved are Anglo Gold Ashanti, Barrick Gold, BHP Billiton, De Beers, Newmont and Vale.

The models will be able to take into account multiple mines and material types; multiple ore/waste processing streams; and both stockpiles and products, while at the same time taking into account uncertainty in demand and hence in the commodity prices for minerals.

The new uncertainty models of mine management will promote more sustainable development and use of mineral resources, while managing and reducing risks and maximizing the return on investment.

The unique and long-standing partnership of Prof. Dimitrakopoulos and his laboratory with the six mining companies, which together represent about 75 per cent of all mining activity on the globe, underscores the importance the research undertaken not only for Canada, but also for the global community as a whole. Indeed, one of the conditions of the NSERC award is that all partners have agreed that the developments will be placed in the public domain without restrictions within a year, so that the outcomes of the grant research will become accessible to both academics and practitioners around the world.

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