Major mining operations worldwide are becoming safer and more sustainable with the use of new and emerging technologies designed specifically for the sector. Leading the way? Arizona companies and University of Arizona researchers who are making the industry safer, sustainable — and profitable.
Climate change is inspiring these companies and researchers to find solutions, said Claudio Cossio, project manager for Stantec Mining, a global mining technologies firm headquartered in Chandler that provides technology solutions focused on sustainability for every stage of operation, from mine exploration to closure and reclamation.
Investors are also demanding it. They want to see a positive return, not just on financial performance, but on keeping the planet safe, Cossio said.
“Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) is becoming like safety in the mining industry. Right now, it’s still a priority, but it’s becoming more ingrained as a core value as part of our culture. A lot of the major mining corporations are setting pretty high goals to get to net-zero emissions by 2030 or 2040, depending on the mining company,” he said.
Profitable technologies to save the planet
Cossio was one of four of Arizona’s leading experts on mining technology who spoke last week at a forum called, Tucson Tech: Smarter, Safer, Sustainable Mining. The panel discussion was hosted by the Arizona Technology Council, the voice of the tech industry.
Other speakers at the event were: Nick Hare, president, Hexagon Mining; Abraham Jalbout, founder and CEO, Auxilium Technology Group; and Brad Ross, director of the Geotechnical Center of Excellence, Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources at the University of Arizona (UArizona).
They spoke about trends and technologies that are making the industry safer, sustainable and profitable. Today’s companies are selling solutions to improve efficiencies in resource consumption, minimize land disturbance, reduce pollution, recycle water, and safely close and reclaim mining lands, the speakers said.
Here’s a snapshot of what these Arizona leaders are doing to produce mining products to save the planet:
Auxilium Technology Group: turning mine waste into products of value
Based out of Tucson, Auxilium grew out of a research collaboration with researchers in the College of Engineering at UArizona. The company has licensed UArizona inventions that offer sustainable and holistic solutions for the mining sector including turning mineral waste into products, extracting heavy metal and rare-earth from mining effluent, water purification and desalination, lower carbon emissions, and energy savings.
“Our goal is zero waste,” said Jalbout, whose company is focused on repurposing mine tailings into products like a spray-on geofoam insulation for walls of underground mines to reduce heat.
This global tech company has its North American headquarters in Tucson and is a leader in digital solutions that create Autonomous Connected Ecosystems (ACE) that can be built into all processes for planning, operations and safety to solve surface and underground sustainability mine challenges.
“The market is demanding that we must look at it from a global world perspective,” Hare said. “So everything we offer works toward sustainability in some way or other. When you’re talking about improving efficiency, when you’re talking about improving effectiveness.”
Hexagon, which has about 21,000 employees in 50 countries and net sales of $4.4 billion, specializes in “fully connected” mines with components like:
• Automated equipment such as excavators and dump trucks, shearers and conveyors, drilling equipment, crushers, bunkers, and skips
• Hardware, such as sensors, RFID tags, wireless infrastructure, drones, embedded systems
• Software, such as cloud and platform solutions, data analysis solutions, 3D imaging and modeling software, and remote management solutions
With a major office in Chandler, Stantec Mining, provides sustainability solutions and services for every stage of operation, from mine exploration to mine closure and reclamation. Biologists, geologists, archaeologists, material specialists, hydrologists, engineers, geochemists, regulatory experts, risk assessors, and toxicologists work with companies to design sustainability into every step.
Among the dozens of services they can provide are regulatory support, exploration and planning, baseline technical studies, environmental assessments, water and waste management and more.
Geotechnical Center of Excellence: partnering to solve geotech problems
Ross, director of the Geotechnical Center Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources, talked about the center’s collaborations with private industry to develop in-demand mining technologies. For example, researchers are currently testing thermal imaging as a possible warning tool for random rock falls.
Meanwhile, a vision is in the works to expand the highly-ranked mining engineering and mineral resources program department at the UArizona into a new college of interdisciplinary mining, Ross said.
Mining program upgrades, expansion in the works
Recently, the program received a $2 million donation that could grow into millions more to upgrade the research and teaching facilities including the San Xavier Underground Mining Laboratory, provide financial support to students, and seed plans to grow a new interdisciplinary school of mining engineering and mineral resources.
“One thing we think is really important is training and making sure our professionals are prepared and understand the most recent technology because it is changing so fast,” Ross said. “We are seeing huge advances. If we don’t have people prepared, those advances don’t do us much good.”
To read more about the research being done at the Geotechnical Center, visit: mining technology research.