De Beers Consolidated Mines (DBCM) has announced that it will operate an automated driverless horizontal truck-haulage system as part of its ZAR20bn ($1.8bn) investment at the Venetia underground diamond mine in the Limpopo province of South Africa.

Two big vertical shafts and a decline shaft will also be automated.

DBCM CEO Phillip Barton told Mining Weekly Online that the Venetia project would use similar automation technology to that in the company’s formerly-owned Finsch diamond mine in the Northern Cape.

Finsch has been using fully automated driverless trucks in haulage loops for some years.

"We’re certainly taking the learnings that we had out of Finsch mine forward and incorporating them into the design of the Venetia underground mine," Barton said.

"The Venetia underground project at the moment provides for a driverless truck loop."

"The Venetia underground project at the moment provides for a driverless truck loop."

The company will install the vertical shafts and decline shaft at a depth of 1km in the pit. Other mining techniques will be used to produce 5.9 million tonnes (Mt) of ore a year and treat 130Mt.

De Beers plans to produce 96 million carats of diamonds during the lifetime of the mine.

The mine will initially operate as open pit until 2021, and then it will be transformed into an underground operation to run until 2046.

Barton said the Venetia project was on schedule to produce its first diamonds in 2021 and ramp-up to full production in 2024.

The Venetia project is expected to contribute $7.9bn directly and $19.9bn indirectly towards the South African economy in between 2012 and 2043.

Image: Venetia Mine is located near the 36,000ha Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve in the northern region of South Africa. Photo: courtesy of De Beers UK Limited.