Sorting sensor drives efficiencies

A new ore-sorting solution using magnetic resonance technology is set to deliver dramatic gains globally by identifying waste rock prior to being sent to a processing facility.

NextOre, the company behind the groundbreaking technology, is a collaboration between the Commonwealth Scienti c and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and two industry players; RFC Ambrian and Advisian Digital.

NextOre Chief Executive Officer Chris Beal said the advanced sensor system took advantage of magnetic resonance technology, similar to magnetic resonance imagery (MRI) machines used in hospitals. The sorter illuminates batches of ore with short pulses of radio waves to measure the material grade at extremely high speeds.

“People are often surprised to find out that, from the point the ore is dug up until it comes out the other end of the processing plant, it’s nearly impossible to know for sure how much metal is in it with current technology,” he said.

“Using magnetic resonance and attaining better information about materials being processed through a plant is essentially a more efficient approach.”

The technology can see through ore in real time as the material moves on a conveyor through sensors contained in an open-ended chamber. Material-handling equipment and a conveyor are required with the mechanism, which needs to match the size of the operation.

Other ore-sorting conveyor machines often only detect the surface particles of the passing material, or characteristics like their density, whereas NextOre’s solution penetrates the entire ore stream presented and measures the amount of contained metal using different mineral radio signals, providing information within seconds.

Processing tonnes of waste rock is a costly exercise for mining companies, and distinguishing the wheat from the cha  will deliver significant operational savings, according to Mr Beal.

“By reducing the amount of waste rock being sent to a processing facility, companies can either shrink processing levels or increase production with better quality materials,” he said. “It will also reduce the amount of energy and water needed for processing.

“When you look at the reductions the technology is capable of achieving, it really is a win-win situation.”

While the productivity benefits vary depending on the characteristics of the mine, the analyser has the potential to double the ore grade.

“The outcome of sorting relies a lot on how quickly the mine is operating,” Mr Beal said. “If a mine is producing 100 million tonnes per annum, you might only be able

to separate the waste from the ore in 10-tonne lots, in comparison to a mine that is doing a 100,000 tonnes per annum where we might be able to separate in lots as small as a few hundred kilograms.

“We call these ‘pods’. A lot of our analysis of projects looks at these ‘pod’ sizes and compares it with how much the grade fluctuates to determine how much waste we can pull out of the system.”

The sensing technology was evaluated by the CSIRO at Newcrest Mining’s Ridgeway underground mine near Orange in New South Wales and demonstrated throughput capacity, accuracy and response times. According to Mr Beal, the results can even be more accurate than assaying methods.

“We can sample an entire stream of ore and tell you exactly how much copper is in it,” he said. “A lot of the assay technologies mean you need to take 100 grams of what might be a 100-tonne sample and try to make that representative of the whole. We measure all 100 tonnes.”

Mr Beal said he believed both established and undeveloped mines would benefit from the sorting technology.

“Companies want to apply this sort of technology because it gives you a precise reading very quickly,” he said. “It can carry out precise measurements in about 10 seconds and it can do that for really big operations, as well as smaller ones.

“We’ve spoken to a really broad variety of mining groups who are very intuitive and knowledgeable in the mining space – everyone is very excited.”

NextOre has agreements in place to send analysers to a number of mines globally. While the company is currently targeting the copper market, it is also able to detect the magnetic resonance signatures of many other minerals.

“Our focus was on copper initially, but we are already talking to companies who mine gold and other commodities like nickel, iron ore and alumina,” Mr Beal said.

“Down the line we will be looking at other commodities the technology is applicable to and could be a game-changer for, such as cobalt.”

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