New tech to help gold miners tackle tough veins – by Geoff Candy (Mineweb.com – March 19, 2014)

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As mines get deeper and costs and safety concerns ratchet upwards so, increasingly, gold and platinum miners are looking for new technological ideas to help solve their problems.

GRONINGEN (MINEWEB) – New technologies look set to provide some solace to deep level gold and platinum miners that continue to struggle with rapidly increasing costs, narrow veins and significant safety issues.

Speaking to Mineweb on the sidelines of this year’s the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada Conference earlier this month, Jean-Yves Therien, VP Development at Rocmec Mining, said that right now is the “best time” for the company, because its patented thermal fragmentation process solves many of the problems currently being faced by the sector.

“This technology has the potential to have the same impact on the mining sector as shale gas fracking has had on the oil and gas sector,” he says. Adding, “We will be the Apple of the mining industry, I think one day everyone will be proud to have a Dragon [the name of the machine that actually does the thermal fragmentation] in their mine, it is just a matter of time and I think that right now is the best time for it.”

The technology centres around the use of extreme heat to shatter the rock within a narrow vein, instead of explosives, which makes it a great deal more efficient because it means the miner needs to extract roughly four times less rock when mining a narrow vein of gold.

According to the company website, first a hole is drilled into vein using a long drill. Then, “Using a burner powered by diesel fuel, the intense heat created within the vein shatters the rock containing the precious metal contents, into small fragments. The ore bearing vein is directly extracted, greatly reducing the dilution factor and the inefficiencies associated with traditional mining methods which extract large amounts of waste rock. With this method, it’s now possible to extract a narrow mining corridor with widths of 30 cm to 1 metre.”

The group has a partner in Japenese technology and marketing firm ES Plus and just signed an exclusive distribution agreement with MaXem Equipment in South Africa and, according to Therien, the technology is at the commercialisation stage.

The first patent pertaining to the technology was filed by the group in 2002 and, most of the others were filed in 2005. Asked why it has taken until now for the companies to start really showing interest, Therien explains that one of the problems is that many of the mines work on a remuneration structure that rewards number of tonnes milled.

“We have had to convince people that producing fewer tonnes is actually a beneficial thing,” he says.

And, he adds, the mining sector is used to incremental change, they don’t really like big changes, but the tide has changed for us; what is happening in SA, the strikes, the fact that costs are rising so much is forcing people to look for new ways of doing things.”

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