Innovative technology needed in mining sector

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Pretoria - More imaginative and innovative technology is key to the long-term profitability and sustainability of the mining industry, says Science and Technology Deputy Minister Derek Hanekom.

"While pick-axes and spades still occupy an honoured position in mining, we now look to more innovative technologies to provide the mechanisms that will reveal, unearth and retrieve the riches in the ground beneath our feet," he said on Tuesday at a mining conference.

Hanekom said to a very large extent, the mining sector has driven the technological development of South Africa over the last century, with advances achieved mostly through government and industry-supported research programmes.

Regrettably, the deputy minister said, most of these research facilities have closed over the past 30 years, as have many similar research facilities around the world. As a result, the current South African expenditure on research and development in the mining sector is minimal.

Hanekom said the department's Ten Year Innovation Plan sees the increase of human capital as a key action and driver in a planned transition from a resource-based economy to a knowledge based economy.

"Technology tells us that there are vast untapped resources in our country. Common sense tells us to do whatever it takes to tap these resources. Pragmatism tells us to respond to these challenges by investing in technological solutions and human capital development. That is what we are doing."

The Centre for Mining Innovation at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is currently looking at geophysical techniques that can provide valuable geological and rock engineering information ahead of mining, making mining operations more cost-effective and safe.

Part of this research includes borehole radar systems for South African gold and platinum mines.

Other projects aim to facilitate data acquisition and underground control through the introduction of standards, including wireless sensor networks, to quantify the operations and the environment in which people are working in.