The company is teaming up with leading researchers to create the Rio Tinto Centre for Underground Mine Construction, which will be the fifth in Rio’s suite of global, long-term research centres.
The work with CEMI will assist the company’s development of new excavation systems under its Mine of the Future program, focusing on greatly improving the construction and operation of underground mines.
As part of this program, Rio Tinto will conduct a full-scale performance verification trial in 2012 at Northparkes’ copper and gold mine in New South Wales, Australia, of the first of three new underground excavation systems.
Rio head of innovation John McGagh said, “In order to satisfy the global demand for minerals we will need to go deeper to access new resources. By partnering with CEMI, Rio Tinto is supporting research into high-speed underground mine construction.
“This collaboration is in keeping with our long-term commitment to innovation. It’s part of our strategy to collect the world’s experts and develop mutually beneficial partnerships to develop technologies which address the future requirements of Rio Tinto.
“Put simply, there is no other mining operation in the world attempting to take the approach that we are on this scale.”
CEMI president Peter K Kaiser said Rio Tinto’s support would enable CEMI to collaborate with recognised researchers on ground control and machine performance issues.
“With test sites possibly on three continents, it will be of strategic importance to strengthen collaborations with expertise beyond our boundaries,” Kaiser said.
“In collaboration with Rio Tinto, CEMI will be able to expand its research and development programs and increase its global reach.”
Rio Tinto general manager underground innovation Fred Delabbio said, “Our partnership with CEMI provides an opportunity to combine experts from the civil and mining industries.
“The centre’s research into high-speed underground mine construction will include implementation of mechanised tunnelling and shaft sinking systems, and CEMI will assist in the development of innovative support systems and in minimising the risks for such technologies.”
The main areas CEMI will work on include developing and designing innovative support methods for different excavation systems; establishing reliable predictions of rock behaviour to ensure effective construction technologies are selected and utilised; and developing advanced rock mass characterisation technologies.
CEMI will also focus on performance of mechanical rock excavation-based systems from an equipment and ground management perspective, and pillar design and underground excavation stability projects, such as rock fracture modelling.
Rio Tinto also has the Centre for Mine Automation, in collaboration with the Australian Centre for Field Robotics at the University of Sydney; the Centre for Advanced Mineral Sorting, a partnership with the Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre at the University of Queensland; the Centre for Materials and Sensing at Curtin University in Perth; and the Centre for Advanced Mineral Recovery, in collaboration with the Imperial College in London.