Mining is changing in the 21st century. The need for sustainable, safety-conscious, and smart mining practices and technologies is driving the development of the industry in new directions. This article will discuss the use of remote sensors to help with efforts that will transform the future of the sector.
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Challenges Facing the Mining Industry
Mining is a crucial economic activity. The global mining industry is a major global employer, and its value is expected to grow to $2,427.85 billion by 2025. 2021 figures show a market value of £1,845.55 billion. Investment in exploration, resource exploitation, and mining infrastructure is expected to grow.
There are several challenges facing the mining industry today. Historically, mining has been a dirty and dangerous activity, and many well-publicized disasters have thrown a spotlight on safety issues within the industry. Mining is also an environmentally damaging activity, contributing significantly to global carbon emissions and damaging ecosystems through toxic run-off and physical alteration of landscapes by mining footprints, infrastructure, and heavy equipment.
Dwindling resources are also an issue. Mines are having to go deeper to reach commercially important minerals and energy-rich seams of coal. Operational costs such as labor must be adjusted downwards to account for reductions in revenue streams. The end of a fossil-fuel-based economy is also fast approaching with international efforts to reduce carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050. The need for smarter mining operations is a pressing concern in the 21st century.
Remote Sensing in the Mining Industry: An Overview
To tackle these issues and drive the mining industry forward toward a smarter, more sustainable future innovation will be required. Key technological advances require cutting-edge applications. Remote sensing has provided improvements in many vital areas of industry and research, and the mining sector makes use of remote sensing capabilities regularly.
Sensors are used to inform plans for new mines, are integrated in next-generation mining equipment, monitor land and cover changes around mines, monitor pollution, ecological damage, and emissions, and provide data on mineralogy and geology. Ground-based, airborne, and satellite remote sensing platforms make use of IR sensors and both multispectral and hyperspectral cameras. Sensors are used to map and monitor seismic changes, temperature changes, and magnetic and electromagnetic changes.
The use of sensors in the mining industry is growing as companies seek to solve the challenges facing them, making the future of the mining industry smarter, sustainable, safer, and more data-driven.
Using Sensors to Improve Safety
Employing sensors in mines is helping to improve worker safety. Integrated sensing systems can monitor health and safety, air quality, geolocate workers and assets, assist in communication, provide superior ground stabilization detection abilities, and help locate trapped miners in the event of cave-ins and explosions. Data gathered by sensors can be fed back into central hubs to inform better regulations and interventions.
SMART, which has been developed by the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources in partnership with UA’s College of Engineering Improving Sustainability, is a system that facilitates mine-wide sensing, monitoring, and communication. The platform uses IoT technology that integrates mine safety, asset tracking, and health monitoring of workers.
Multiple research projects across the industry are solving safety issues with innovative approaches utilizing sensor technology. Fully mechanized mining is one of the holy grails of mining in the 21st century, where human workers may not even set foot deep in mines, instead monitoring autonomous equipment and only interacting with them to undergo maintenance duties.
Sensors are used today to improve the sustainability of mines. They are used to map land and cover changes, monitor emissions and pollution, and inform the entire process from planning to closure and environmental remediation. Remote, satellite-based sensors are increasingly being used to provide ongoing data and change detection methods for monitoring purposes of both legal and illegal mining.
Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) uses laser pulses to measure distances and is finding increased use in the mining industry. Recent research has demonstrated that using a ground-based micro-pulse LiDAR is effective for monitoring dust and emissions from mining activities.
The system, which was originally developed by NASA, monitors particulate matter, and creates a three-dimensional view of the movement of air pollution in an area. It can be used to track plumes of pollution and inform air quality assessments around mines. The system can work autonomously by scanning the area on a pre-set schedule.
Creating Smarter, More Data-Driven Mines
The mining industry is about to get a lot more connected and data-driven. Mines of the future will employ banks of sensors providing real-time information on every parameter of their operation. Autonomous mining equipment will become more commonplace, and both human and mechanical assets will become hyper-connected. Data will be fed back to central, remote hubs.
Sensors can be used to provide remote diagnostics, predictive maintenance, asset tracking, emission and groundwater monitoring, as well as monitoring the after-effects of blasting, providing wearable tech, and helping to implement smart ventilation systems. Real-time, constant monitoring abilities can be realized. Together, these applications will construct truly smart mines that will change the face of mining permanently.
The Future of the Mining Industry
As the 4th Industrial Revolution gathers pace, sensors will play a central role in many technological advances in the near future. Mining is undergoing a shift in focus and direction, and the implementation of innovative sensor-based solutions will help drive the entire industry forward, preparing it to face and overcome the challenges of the new century.
References and Further Reading
Miningmagazine.com (2018) IoT sensors to improve mine safety [online] miningmagazine.com. Available at: https://www.miningmagazine.com/sustainability/news/1332076/iot-sensors-to-improve-mine-safety
Droplet Mining Technologies (2020) Mining Emissions Effectively Monitored with Micro Pulse LiDAR Technology [online] dropletmeasurement.com. Available at: https://www.dropletmeasurement.com/article/mining-emissions-effectively-monitored-with-micro-pulse-lidar-technology/
BehrTech Blog (2020) IoT in Mining: 5 Ways IoT is Driving the Connected Mine [online] behrtech.com. Available at: https://behrtech.com/blog/iot-in-mining-5-ways-iot-is-driving-the-connected-mine/