Research boom: University of the Witwatersrand collaborate with China University of Mining & 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.”
Get in touch with our editor Dale Benton at [email protected]
Copper production from top ten companies to increase by 3.8%
Copper production from the world’s top companies is set to increase by up to 3.8% this year, following a fall of 0.2% in 2020, GlobalData analysis reveals. Last year’s marginal slump saw production drop to 11.76 million tonnes (Mt).
The initial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mining operations was immense, however, six of the ten largest copper producers succeeded in increasing output last year. In 2021, copper production from the top ten copper companies is expected to bounce back, rising by up to 3.8%, to reach 12.2Mt, according to GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.
The highest increase in copper production was by Canada’s First Quantum, which, despite all the challenges, reported 10.4% growth in 2020. The company’s Sentinel mine in Zambia and Cobre Panama were key contributors to this growth. While the latter remained under care and maintenance between April and August 2020, it delivered record production levels during the subsequent months.
Codelco, the world’s largest producer of the red metal used in electric vehicles, also bucked the trend.
Vinneth Bajaj, Associate Project Manager at GlobalData, commented: “Despite Codelco reporting over 3,400 active cases during July 2020, the company achieved 1.2% growth in its production in 2020. The company implemented a four-phase plan, as part of the COVID-19 measures, to ensure the health and safety of its employees, while also avoiding any significant impact to its copper output.”
Although the overall impact was minimal, declines in production were observed from Glencore (8.2%), Antofagasta (4.7%), BHP (3.9%) and Freeport McMoRan (1.3%). Reduced operational workforces due to COVID-19 measures, lower ore grades and production halts due to maintenance were the key disruptors to output during 2020.
The move towards electric vehicles and clean energy from renewables sources such as solar panels and wind turbines has driven the copper price to all-time highs. Copper has been among the best performers over the last month where metals ranging from aluminum to iron ore have surged to their highest prices in years. The rally is being fueled by stimulus measures, near-zero interest rates and signs that economies are recovering from the global pandemic.