Bringing mined rock to the surface, traditionally a time and labour-intensive process, could become a lot easier thanks to Canadian company Cementation Canada. At this year’s #DisruptMining competition, awards were given to the most innovative new technologies in mining, including Cementation’s new injection hoisting device. Taking inspiration from existing drilling technology, the technology may be able to quickly and easily bring rocks to the surface using reverse circulation.
The technology’s potential is vast and already mining companies are keen to be the first to trial it as Cementation Canada moves into injection hoisting’s prototype stage. But who are the minds behind this potentially revolutionary technology?
What is Cementation Canada?
Cementation is a global company that has worked in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Australasia designing and building mines. “Cementation is a mining contracting company; the easiest way to describe it is that we build mines,” explains Cementation president Roy Slack. “So mining companies do exploration, they find ore bodies, we will sink the shafts or drive the ramps, and we do what we need to do to get access to the ore underground.”
The company is one of the few contracting companies that not only builds the mines but also carries out studies and designs infrastructure for underground mines. Cementation is a great advocator of design-build companies, working closely with mining companies to implement the best and newest technologies and processes.
“When we started this company in 1998, we wanted to do some things differently,” says Slack. “Some of us had been involved in projects before where we did the design and the construction, and we just felt that that was the best way to do the project. It wasn't about differentiating us, and it wasn't about reliability or accountability or risk or any of those things, it was just that we thought that was the best way to do a project. So we set the company up that way right from the start, with the engineering capacity.”
The #DisruptMining awards were set up to recognise innovation in what is traditionally a very conservative industry. This year saw 153 submissions and the sold-out awards ceremony attracted 400 people from across the mining industry. Cementation was just one of these applicants, putting forward its injection hoisting technology, which combines pumping, crushing and slurry technologies to transport ore to the surface using a pump-driven pipeline loop.
“We've been working on that for a few years now; traditionally for an underground mine we will either bring ore to surface with trucks or up a shaft with a hoist,” Slack says. “Originally we were looking at this in a shaft sinking project and saying 'is there another way to get the rock to surface?'”
The idea for injection hoisting was inspired by technology which is already in place in full face shaft boring in soft-rock, as well as what is in use in the drilling industry, which use reverse circulations to bring the cuttings up the drill pipe. “We thought if there was a way to emulate that and to put two pipes in, and bring the rock up to surface through a pipe loop, that would solve a lot of issues,” Slack says. “We began to work on that and issued a patent last year on it, and took it public towards the end of last year.”
For this, Cementation was chosen as one of the five finalists at #DisruptMining, walking away with winnings totalling $650,000 in recognition of the technology.
The prototype stage
Cementation is now looking to prove injection hoisting’s benefits by creating a full-sized prototype. “We need an underground mine to do that because the full-scale prototype is going to be from 600m to 1,000m vertical lift,” Slack says. “You can't really do that from a tower on the surface, it doesn't work that way.”
Optimistically the prototype can be constructed within a year, and then the technology made commercially available shortly after. There are currently three candidate mines in which the prototype could be constructed; once one of those is chosen for the project Cementation engineers will be able to finalise the design and installation.
The company will also need to source extra funding for the project, applying to the government and other stakeholders. Slack is confident about the funding of the project though, as he says “none of these things are inexpensive to prove, but the payback on them is very quick”.
VR in the pipeline
So what’s next for Cementation? The company intends to continue to focus on innovation as one of its core values and already has new projects in the pipeline. One of the most exciting and a concept which is beginning to pop up throughout the mining industry is the use of virtual reality (VR).
“We're doing a lot of work with virtual reality; our engineering is 3D which ties in well to VR,” says Slack. “We're looking at virtual reality not just in terms of design as we do already construct a building review that way, but in terms of remote operation of equipment for example. If you can get panoramic photos into VR, then you can operate equipment like you're there. So there are some pretty neat things the group is doing with that as well.”
For Slack, this is just the start and Cementation is keen to continue to develop VR closely with mining companies, using collaboration to get the most out of the technology. “The exciting part of it is that we haven't figured out all the great things we can do with it yet, we're just starting to figure out how to do it,” Slack says. “It is the same with any technology; it’s the application that's exciting. The technology itself is well developed, but where it can be applicable and where it can help us with safety and productivity, that's the exciting thing that's happening right now.”