Unlocking sustainable resource extraction: Exploring the promising future of ore sorting in Australia
In recent years, the mining industry in Australia has witnessed a remarkable technological transformation with the advent of ore sorting.
This technique has revolutionised the way minerals are extracted and processed, unlocking many benefits for both mining companies and the environment.
By harnessing the power of advanced sensors and auditing systems, ore sorting has become an industry disruptor, enhancing operational efficiency, reducing waste, and paving the way for sustainable mining practices.
This article will look at various aspects of ore sorting, its advantages, challenges, use cases for top commodities in Australia, as well as practical questions to ask yourself before considering ore sorting.
Understanding ore sorting
Ore sorting involves identifying and removing waste and below-cut-off-grade ore from valuable minerals using tried-and- tested technology.
Advanced sensing technologies such as X-ray transmission (XRT), laser, and electromagnetic sensors are employed to identify and differentiate valuable ore particles based on their physical properties.
This real-time data is then used to identify and distinguish between ore and waste rapidly and accurately.
Doing so, mining operations can optimise and streamline their processes and significantly increase resource recovery.
Ore sorting technology also holds great potential for material upgrading, which refers to the process of enhancing the quality and value of low-grade or suboptimal ore by separating it into high-grade and low-grade fractions.
By implementing ore sorting techniques, mining companies can effectively identify and extract valuable minerals from previously uneconomical or low-grade ore deposits, increasing resource recovery and maximising the value of their operations.
By subjecting tailings (the by-product of the mining process) to sorting technology, mining companies can also extract residual valuable minerals. This means that valuable resources that were previously overlooked can now be reclaimed, promoting a more sustainable and efficient use of mining waste materials.
The role of ore sorting in modern plants
Ore sorting has become an indispensable tool for modern mining plants striving for increased productivity and responsible resource utilisation.
It enhances operational efficiency by enabling higher processing rates and improved mill throughput.
By swiftly and accurately separating valuable minerals, mining operations can optimise their processes and focus on extracting high-grade ore, minimising the need for costly downstream processes.
Ore sorting also reduces the impact the mine has on the environment, reducing carbon emissions and helping mines to contribute to a carbon-neutral future.
It aligns with sustainable mining practices by conserving precious resources and contributes to greener mining, safeguarding local ecosystems. By integrating smart technologies, mines are also better positioned to gain green eligible status and qualify for green loans.
The 7 most important benefits of ore sorting in Australia
- Increased resource recovery: Ore sorting enables mines to extract a higher proportion of valuable minerals from the ore, resulting in increased resource utilisation and improved overall productivity. It also allows for the extraction of lower grade ores that were previously discarded, extending the life of mines.
- Enhanced operational efficiency: By efficiently separating valuable minerals from waste early in the extraction process, ore sorting optimises downstream processes, reduces processing costs, and enhances operational efficiency.
- Improved product quality: Ore sorting technology allows for the identification and separation of high-grade ore, resulting in improved product quality and higher market value for the extracted minerals.
- Reduced water consumption: By being able to dry sort and process less materials, mining operations can drastically reduce water consumption, a critical concern in arid regions like Australia.
- Reduced environmental impact: By separating valuable minerals from waste early on, not only do mines minimise the amount of land disturbance but the amount of material sent to fine tailings dams is also drastically reduced.
This matters because tailings dams occupy significant land space and can pose environmental risks, such as the contamination of surrounding ecosystems. Now, it’s possible that waste can be returned to the environment in an unaltered state.
- Green-linked loans: By integrating ore sorting technologies, mining operations are more likely to secure green loans because they minimise overall ore extraction, which will result in reduced energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
- Cost savings: By reducing the amount of waste material sent for processing, ore sorting lowers operational costs associated with transportation, energy consumption, and downstream processing, leading to significant cost savings for mining operations.
It also means that companies are transporting saleable ore and not waste.
The successful implementation of ore sorting
The success of ore sorting technology is evident across various commodities in Australia.
In gold mining, ore sorting has demonstrated significant improvements in resource recovery and operational efficiency.
By segregating gold-bearing ore from waste early on, mining companies have achieved higher grades, increased production rates, and reduced processing costs.
Lithium, a key component in the production of batteries for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage, has witnessed a surge in demand.
By employing ore sorting techniques, mining companies can effectively separate lithium-bearing minerals from waste early in the extraction process, optimising resource recovery and increasing the overall grade of the ore.
Sensor-based sorting technology enables precise identification and sorting of lithium- rich particles, improving operational efficiency and reducing downstream processing costs.
With iron ore being a key component in steel production, its efficient extraction and processing are critical for the Australian economy.
By utilising advanced sensors, such as X-ray transmission or electromagnetic sensors, mining operations can precisely identify, and separate, iron ore particles based on their iron content.
This allows for targeted processing, reducing the need for costly and energy-intensive downstream processes.
The application of ore sorting has displayed notable success and become prevalent in uranium mining in Australia, playing a significant role in the global nuclear energy sector.
The ore sorting process focuses on separating waste rock with low concentrations of valuable minerals from the process prior to the material being fed to the mill, reducing the amount of material that is processed in the uranium mill.
This makes it possible to only lose a minor fraction of the contained uranium. Uranium minerals have very high densities, there is a clear distinction when compared with the lower density waste material (calcite).
Australia has become one of the leading copper producers globally, the introduction of ore sorting has helped the industry grow. It’s possible to now upgrade feed to mineral processing plants with ore sorting, separating mineral rock at a high speed and at high feed rates.
This increases efficiency of processing plants because more mineral is processed and less rock.
Ore sorting works as a pre-concentration method for copper mining to remove a significant amount of waste material.
Questions you should ask before implementing ore sorting
Before implementing ore sorting, mining companies need to consider several factors.
While ore sorting can be highly effective, it may not always replace traditional dense media separation (DMS) processes.
It is crucial to evaluate the specific characteristics of the ore deposit and determine if ore sorting alone can meet the desired objectives or if a combination of ore sorting and DMS would be more suitable for optimal mineral processing.
Any reputable ore sorting advisor will tell you that the process always starts with the deposit.
Before making the commitment to ore sorting, have your deposit evaluated so that you can understand its characteristics and whether it is amenable to ore sorting.
Assess if the ore has significant variability and heterogeneity in its mineralogy, particle size, or chemical composition, as these factors can impact the effectiveness and efficiency of sorting technologies.
Finally, choose your ore sorting advisors and specialists with care.
By partnering with the right integrators, you’ll have access to the ongoing technical expertise you’ll need to be able to operate and maintain the sorting systems and get the required assistance and support to develop and train personnel.
Stark Resources: Next generation solutions around ore sorting
Stark Resources is a unique, independent end-to-end integrator of ore-sorting technologies and has made significant inroads in Australia’s mining industry.
The team leverages its unique set of capabilities and expertise to develop next-generation solutions around ore sorting.
They consider a wide range of technologies and partner with an extensive group of best-in-class suppliers, to ensure that miners have access to tried and tested solutions that will help them meet their unique needs and get into production.
A core belief at Stark is to always start with the deposit to ensure that the team understands and designs a plant around the geology of the deposit.
Once the deposit has been assessed, the team determines if ore sorting is the most appropriate solution or whether a hybrid solution centred around ore sorting and DMS would better suit the ore.
The team has experience that extends beyond the past 20 years, making them an ideal partner for mining companies seeking to upgrade their operations and maximise yields.
They understand the complexities of the industry as well as the opportunities that ore sorting offers and have become the go-to partner for mining companies striving to embrace greener practices.
With their expertise and focus on smart, simple, and fast integration, Stark Resources is paving the way for a more sustainable and efficient future in mineral processing.
What really sets Stark apart is their belief that an engagement with a client is first and foremost a partnership.
They work closely with their clients to get the plant into production and beyond.
Once the plant is in production and operations have been assessed and optimised, the Stark team trains and develops personnel on-site, so that they are equipped to ensure successful, optimal recovery.
With Australia being rich in mineral resources, the adoption of ore sorting technologies positions the country as a global leader in efficient and responsible mining practices.
As Australia continues to lead the way in environmentally conscious mining, ore sorting stands as a testament to the country’s commitment to innovation and a greener future for the mining sector.
For more information on how to partner with Stark Resources and integrate ore sorting technologies into your plant, contact [email protected]