The new scoping study is one of 25 underground coal projects that got the go-ahead last week from the Australian Coal Association Research Program (ACARP) for funding in 2006.
While average production from longwall mines has risen dramatically since the early 1990s, output has reach a plateau in the past five years. The research project will look at ways of increasing this to 15Mtpa from a single longwall face, over a 15-year timeframe.
In 2004, average Australian production from longwall mines was 3.024Mt ROM. The average of the top five producers was 4.731Mt. Researchers have pointed out that this average has not increased over the past five years, with a mean over that period of 4.860Mt.
The highest producer in the five years in Australia was Oaky North with 7.585Mt in 2002. Only one mine – Kestrel - was in the top five for the period with an average production of 4.681Mt from 2000-2004. In the US the average of the top five mines in 2004 was 8.99 million tonnes of product coal.
This 15Mtpa production target is greater than double the current best, and quadruple the current average. The feasibility of achieving such targets – and the associated risks and consequences – will be identified for the prevailing range of seam geometries and conditions found in Australia, in particular those anticipated in the next 20 years.
Specifically the initial research will benchmark current practices and systems gaps for high capacity underground coal mining and will identify strategic research directions to support high capacity mining in the future.
The scoping study will identify specific, high impact research projects and highlight opportunities for postgraduate training.
Researchers said that in addition to these specific outcomes, identifying the step change systems needed for the future should help today’s mining industry improve production in current conditions.
The research leaders of the 15Mtpa Longwall project are Dr Gideon P Chitombo, mass mining manager at the Queensland-based Sustainable Minerals Institute, and Mick Kelly, mining manager with CSIRO Exploration and Mining.
The project will also draw relevant expertise from the industry with a steering committee consisting of Bruce Robertson, Anglo Coal; Jim Sandford, Xstrata Coal; Greg Nieuwenhuis, Rio Tinto; Steve Burgess, Centennial Coal; Gary Brassington, BHPB Illawarra; Cam Davidson, BMA; and Guy Mitchell, BMA.