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‘Navigating Underground Mining Hazards With Technology’ – Article Preview

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Global Mining Review,

Suraj Suryavanshi, Transparency Market Research (TMR), India, outlines how the increasing reliance on technology is shaping the underground mining market.

‘Navigating Underground Mining Hazards With Technology’ – Article Preview

Underground mining is one of the many modern mining methods, however it is one of the more cost-intensive and hazardous. Surprisingly, over the years, mining companies have placed more reliance on underground mining for a variety of materials that are usually characterised by high commercial value, than perhaps opencast mining.

The commercialisation of cutting-edge technologies, methods, and mining equipment has allowed industry players to dig deeper into the underground mining market. Mining companies are, in particular, harnessing a range of autonomous technologies to plan their operations more efficiently than ever before.

Several factors at play

Aside from the significant technological push, the entire economics of underground mining has evolved greatly over the decades. The changing paradigm has shaped the large-scale adoption of new methods. The constant drive for improving productivity and reducing costs has facilitated the rise of new OPEX and CAPEX business models in the underground mining market. The models influence the economics of the methods that are adopted, however operators still have little freedom as to what methods they can use. Some of the less commonly adopted methods might be popular due to benefits of lower OPEX. This is, for instance, determined by labour productivity and the prevailing regulatory frameworks. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the New Emergency Response Act of 2006 (MINER Act) are examples of regulatory institutions that are in place to help and protect workers in underground mines.

The economics of demand and consumption of high-value minerals comprises another chief macroeconomic factor influencing the mine-to-market value chain. Gold mining is a prime example here, as demand for gold has continued to increase, influencing the value chain.

Opening a world of possibilities

The extraction of minerals has been an industry of ample opportunity for several centuries now. Companies have been fervently hauling mines all over the world for coal, gold, copper, etc. Underground mines have contributed to a sizable proportion of global mining over the past few years, making it a lucrative industry.

However, in recent years there has been a conscious shift towards making underground mines more environmentally sustainable, often through reducing waste disposal and making them more targeted. The increased attention to the safety and reliability of operations has spurred investments in the underground mining market. Sustainability in mining is an important topic, given the speed at which mineral consumption among end users has risen in industrialised nations around the world. The issues behind the concept of sustainability stem from a failure to achieve market equilibrium regarding the demand and supply of critical mineral resources. As global demand for commodities continues to rise, so too will the demand for mineral resources. As a result, the demand for mining companies to increase production rates is sky-rocketing at a rate that is not environmentally, or economically, sustainable.

The inherent complexity of underground mining underpins the cost-intensive nature of the mining operations. For the industry to move forward in a sustainable way, increased reliance will be placed on new technologies, and in particular on automation.

This is a preview of an article that was originally published in the November/December 2022 issue of Global Mining Review. The full version can be read here.

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