May 17, 2020

Research boom: University of the Witwatersrand collaborate with China University of Mining & Technology

university of he Witwatersrand
China Univers
Dale Benton
3 min
Professors Wang and Cawood at the announcement of the Joint Laboratory.  Standing in the background between them is CUMT President Professor Shirong Ge, with some of the African students currently enr
Taking its mining research partnership to the next level, the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and the China University of Mining and Technology...

Taking its mining research partnership to the next level, the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and the China University of Mining and Technology (CUMT) have established the Joint International Research Laboratory of China-Africa Mining Geospatial Informatics at a ceremony in Xuzhou, China.

The collaboration, underway since January 2013, researches underground communication systems, risk measurement through sensors, risk modelling and prediction of harm – while the new initiative will focus on accurately locating workers relative to mine risks, using GPS-like underground positioning.

“Every day, thousands of mineworkers report for duty and shortly afterwards disappear into the underground workings,” said Professor Fred Cawood of the Wits Mining Institute. 

 “Once underground, it is hard to protect them from harm because we don’t know what risks they are exposed to – or where and when those risks occur. At the end of the shift, they return – and this is the first time we can check that they are all back safely.”  

Professor Cawood said this situation was not good enough to pursue a zero-harm objective.

 “The way to overcome this problem is, firstly, to accurately locate workers relative to machines, excavations and other typical mining risks in real time,” he said, “and secondly, to communicate directly with them should they find themselves in harm’s way.”

 This initiative is a step toward realising the vision of being a world-leading laboratory with networks to mining in China and Africa, with an initial focus on mining geospatial informatics research.  

 According to CUMT President Professor Shirong Ge, his institution’s long history of cooperation with Wits and other African countries (including Mozambique, Togo, Botswana and the Comoros) laid a strong foundation for the initiative. Geospatial technology in China has achieved a leading global position after decades of development – as did the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System.

 “Universities like ours have the responsibility to introduce these advanced technologies to the international market,” he said “I believe that this new laboratory will contribute to the application of these technologies, and promote the economic, social and technological development of both Africa and China.”

 Speaking at the ceremony, Deputy Director-General of Science and Technology Dr Jing Guffei pledged the support of China’s Ministry of Science and Technology.

 “Geospatial informatics technology has been playing an important role in the development of the national economy, especially in the mining area,” said Dr Guffei. “It is relevant to natural disaster monitoring and evaluation, macro resources environment investigation and protection of land and resources. This initiative between CUMT and Wits will become a landmark achievement in China-Africa cooperation in science and technology.”

 Key themes and activities of the Joint Laboratory include:

  • Geospatial positioning, including research on China's GNSS plan and indoor positioning systems, and possibly building a BeiDou data analysis centre and monitoring stations in Africa;
  • Mobile and underground platforms, including Position, Navigate and Time (PNT), extension of indoor to underground positioning systems, and multi-sensor positioning and navigation systems;
  • Digital Mining, including ground, environmental and other mine risk monitoring for mine safety, operational efficiency and Mineral Resource Management;
  • Mining and geospatial software development and application, including the development of risk maps; and
  • Education and training for African countries, including technology development and application courses.


According to Professor Cawood, the work of the Joint Laboratory will benefit both China and Africa, as they work together on a range of solutions for the many mining challenges and problems in Africa.  

“Perhaps our biggest opportunity is in the long-term, where we can work on 21st century mining education and skills for African countries – to ‘leapfrog’ our current technology gap in this area,” he said. “This will give Africans the capacity to manufacture, install and maintain technology solutions developed and designed in this Joint Laboratory.”


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Jun 29, 2021

Vale invests $150mn to extend life of Manitoba operations

battery metals
2 min
Vale’s $150mn investment in operations at Thompson, Manitoba will extend mine life by 10 years

Vale has announced a $150mn CAD investment to extend current mining activities in Thompson, Manitoba by 10 years while aggressive exploration drilling of known orebodies holds the promise of mining well past 2040.

Global energy transition is boosting the market for nickel

The Thompson Mine Expansion is a two-phase project. The announcement represents Phase 1 and includes critical infrastructure such as new ventilation raises and fans, increased backfill capacity and additional power distribution. The changes are forecast to improve current production by 30%.

“This is the largest single investment we have made in our Thompson operations in the past two decades,” said Mark Travers, Executive Vice-President for Base Metals with Vale. “It is significant news for our employees, for the Thompson community and for the Province of Manitoba.

“The global movement to electric vehicles, renewable energies and carbon reduction has shone a welcome spotlight on nickel – positioning the metal we mine as a key contributor to a greener future and boosting world demand. We are proud that Thompson can be part of that future and part of the low carbon solution.”

Vale continues drilling program at Manitoba

Coupled with today’s announcement, Vale is continuing an extensive drilling program to further define known orebodies and search for new mineralization.

“This $150mn investment is just one part of our ambitious Thompson turnaround story. It is an indicator of our confidence in a long future for the Thompson operations,” added Dino Otranto, Chief Operating Officer for Vale’s North Atlantic Base Metals operations.

“Active collaboration between our design team, technical services, USW Local 6166, and our entire Thompson workforce has delivered a safe, efficient and fit-for-purpose plan that will enable us to extract the Thompson nickel resources for many years to come.”

The Thompson orebody was first discovered in 1956 by Vale (then known as Inco) following the adoption of new exploration technology and the largest exploration program to-date in the company’s history.  Mining of the Thompson orebody began in 1961.

“We see the lighting of a path forward to a sustainable and prosperous future for Vale Base Metals in Manitoba,” said Gary Annett, General Manager of Vale’s Manitoba Operations.

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