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Academic centre leads research into sustainable mining practices

As global demand for minerals continues to grow, the tasks of mining and quarrying are only becoming more challenging.

Access to mineral resources in the modern world requires consideration not only of physical conditions but also of more demanding environmental, regulatory and community concerns. The Australian Centre of Sustainable Mining Practices (ACSMP), at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), was created to provide the leadership in education and research in sustainable mining practices (SMP) ? a fast-developing new field which covers skills and capabilities vital for operating in the modern environment.

Sustainable mining practices form a concept that embeds the principles of sustainable development into a mining and minerals context. At its core is the belief that through the responsible development of the world?s mineral resources, the global population will be able to access the mineral resources they demand for both a higher standard of living and better access to energy. It is an important tool in alleviating poverty. Companies that exhibit sustainable mining practices demonstrate:

  • Environmental leading practices.
  • Community engagement and support.
  • Economic development.
  • Safety excellence.
  • Optimum resource utilisation.

As a result of embedding these practices into mining work, operations will be sustained and enduring benefits will flow to the community.
At the launch of ACSMP in March 2011, Nikki Williams, the former CEO of the New South Wales Minerals Council, said mining sustainability was about more than the simple restoration of mine sites. ?It?s about building something new, creating opportunities for people to thrive, and leaving behind a better community than you started with,? she said.

The ACSMP is located within the School of Mining Engineering at UNSW. Its staff and associates are a mix of experienced mining practitioners, researchers and educators from a variety of disciplines including mining engineering, surveying, water, energy, law
and economics. The Centre is classified by the university as a community centre, reflecting its role in reaching out to the community to educate and build awareness of the extractive sector.

The ACSMP is recognised as being:

  • A leading independent authority on sustainable mining practices.
  • A provider and developer of innovative educational resources across both tertiary and professional development sectors.
  • An active research organisation focused on new mining practices, and development and application of technologies and systems for sustainable mining initiatives.

The ACSMP utilises world-class researchers and teaching staff in the area of sustainable development and mining, working either directly for the Centre or in collaboration with its staff. Its affiliates and collaborators will be drawn from across the community, including from the mining industry itself, researchers in the fields of social science, biology, engineering, law, Indigenous studies and other disciplines at UNSW and other institutions, and from government. The Centre aims to address, through its education and research activities, the five core areas of sustainability in the context of the mining industry, and in the broader context of global pressures and expectations of an increasingly carbon-constrained world. Broadly these core areas are:

  1. Safety and risk management.
  2. Environmental management.
  3. Community engagement.
  4. Economic development.
  5. Resource efficiency.

The areas where the Centre can provide solutions include remote sensing, simulation/visualisation/virtual reality for training and demonstration, mine closure and rehabilitation, water management, emissions, innovative mining methods, risk and safety management, waste management and energy options/security. Apart from its technical strengths, the Centre is working in policy and legislative developments as well. The Centre will be at the forefront of emerging issues, regardless of their complexity.

The ACSMP is at the forefront of technology in sustainable mining practices, particularly virtual reality and remote sensing. These initiatives are expanded on below.

A ground-breaking innovation, Advanced Visualisation and Interaction Environment (AVIE) is the world?s first stereoscopic panoramic cinematic environment. With 12 high resolution digital video projectors, six computers and a massive 120m2 circular screen, AVIE completely surrounds and immerses the audience in 3D imagery. It includes a vision-based motion tracking system that is able to track and respond to the movements of the audience, along with a 16-channel spatialised audio system. AVIE?s dynamic system creates a powerful virtual reality environment. The School of Mining Engineering and ACSMP have used AVIE for education, safety and hazard awareness and community engagement. Nearly 20 ?modules? ? purpose-designed software-based virtual environments ? have been developed to date, including safety awareness, mining education, construction training (working at heights) and community engagement.

The safety modules are high fidelity representations of the work environment that enable trainees to be educated and assessed in core competencies for mine worker training. Trainees can navigate the simulated environment without being exposed to real world risk. That is, they can learn from their mistakes in a safe and forgiving environment.

Mining Education Australia (MEA) is a world-first joint venture between Curtin University of Technology, UNSW, the University of Queensland and the University of Adelaide. As part of MEA?s involvement in the use of innovative technology in learning and teaching, five interactive 3D training modules were developed for the UNSW School of Mining Engineering?s 360-degree AVIE immersive screen. The modules cover subject areas such as block caving, laboratory rock testing, mining in a global environment, longwall top coal caving, and truck and shovel operations. The modules were designed in collaboration with subject matter experts at UNSW, and the School of Mining Engineering Virtual Reality Team supplied development services for these modules.

Working At Heights was a collaborative project between the University of New South Wales, the University of Adelaide, the Resources and Engineering Skills Alliance, TAFE SA and SkillsDMC. Its purpose was to investigate how virtual reality technology could be used for training in the South Australian mining industry. With the guidance of subject matter experts at BHP Billiton, the project resulted in the development and deployment of Working at Heights, an interactive real-time training module.

The Working at Heights training module has been successfully deployed to installations at the BHP Billiton Olympic Dam site, the Southern Regional Testing Agency training facility in Adelaide, as well as to the eResearch SA and the South Australian Virtual Reality Centre virtual reality facilities at the University of Adelaide.

One of the most impressive features of AVIE is visualisation capability. The ACSMP developed a prototype module that allows the community to assess the potential impacts of a mining or quarrying operation. The quarry industry, given its proximity to communities, knows full well the importance of maintaining its social licence to operate. If a new quarry is proposed or expansion plans for an existing quarry are announced, it is understandable that some members of the community become apprehensive. The traditional environmental and social impact assessment process, relying on masses of documentation, often fails to allay community concerns. Presenting this type of information in a realistic setting enables individual members of a community to be better able to estimate the overall impact as well as impact on their own amenity.

A prototype community engagement module allows members of a community to join with mine planners to co-design the layout of a mine or quarry for minimum impact. Templates of mine infrastructure including buildings, crushing/screening and processing plants, waste dumps, stockpiles, tailings dams, pipelines, roads and other features have been developed. These can be moved around the 360-degree simulator to ensure their location, aspect, size and other parameters meet leading practice. Members of the public can view the result of the layout from various viewpoints.

Two mine sites have now signed up to use this technology, the most recent as a supplement to its Environmental Impact Statement processes in preparation for a significant expansion to the mine, mill, dumps and tailings storage facilities.

In light of increasing concerns for sustainable mining practices, it is critical to monitor the environment in and around quarries and advanced and more sensitive monitoring tools are providing new capabilities. Satellite-based remote sensing technology, as one observation tool, has grown in usage and significance over the last few years. Recently launched satellites have a better spatial and spectral resolution and a shorter revisit time than previously achieved, for the assessment of the sustainability of mining projects (Raval et al, 2009). Figure 2 depicts satellite-based monitoring as applicable in the management of each of the five dimensions of sustainability.

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The potential applications are considerable and include monitoring of acid mine drainage (AMD), the rehabilitation of mine tailings as well as mine subsidence, the assessment of slope stability and air quality. The economic aspects of the SMP model could be enhanced by satellite-based observations which are cheaper than comparative ground-based or aerial surveys. Satellite images, with coverage of a few kilometres, offer a cost-effective means of monitoring more than one mining lease. Easier vegetation health monitoring is another basic advantage of optical remote sensing (Raval et al, 2011). Figure 3 demonstrates an improved monitoring of mine site vegetation through satellite imagery. Satellite-based investigations are also important in a situation such as a company takeover, to quantify the inherited environmental liability.

From the business community perspective, satellite-based monitoring data of a mine site is likely to be perceived as authentic
and unbiased, by those with vested interests and external stakeholders and therefore can carry greater impact for the positive image-building of the industry. A satellite image with coverage of a few kilometres provides an opportunity to access the social impact
of mining to a larger spatial extent. Archives of satellite imageries will probably be the only available source of data to show the historical perspective of land impacted by mining operations, a vital factor in rural development planning.

In relation to safety, microwave remote sensing has introduced a newer capability of ground movement measurements. It is now possible to monitor mining subsidence over a large area at sub-centimetre accuracy (Ge et al, 2007), as shown in Figure 4.

More information about the ACSMP can be found at www.acsmp.unsw.edu.au/index.html

Associate Professor David Laurence is the director of the Australian Centre for Sustainable Mining Practices, UNSW. Simit Raval is a PhD candidate at the Australian Centre for Sustainable Mining Practices.


  1. Ge L, Chang H, Rizos C. Mine subsidence monitoring using multi-source satellite SAR images. Photogrammetric engineering and remote sensing 73: 259, 2007.
  2. Laurence D, Scoble M. Integration of sustainability into mining schools: Counter-cycle strategies for the next boom. In: Fourth International Conference On Sustainable Development Indicators In The Minerals Industry, Gold Coast, Queensland, 2009.
  3. Ong C, Cudahy TJ, Caccetta MS, Piggott MS. Deriving quantitative dust measurements related to iron ore handling from airborne hyperspectral data. Institution Of Mining And Metallurgy. Transactions. Section A: Mining Technology 112: A158-A162, 2003.
  4. Raval S, Ge L, Laurence D. Evaluation of remote sensing technology as a tool for mining applications. In: Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference On Sustainable Development Indicators In The Minerals Industry, Gold Coast, Australia. AUSIIM, 411-416, 2009.
  5. Raval S, Merton RN, Laurence D. Satellite based mine rehabilitation monitoring using Worldview-2 imagery [Online]. The Digitalglobe 8-Band Research Challenge (Phase 2), 2011. Available: http://Dgl.Us.Neolane.Net/Res/Img/0aafcaf7cf66c9430c5879821b434afa.Pdf [Accessed 2011].

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