Technology of mining in the future

Prospect Mining Studio is offering mining start-ups time in the spotlight and supports them in becoming cornerstones in the mining industry of the future. Mining Magazine’s Donna Schmidt investigates.

Among the first cohort of technology start-ups is Exyn Technologies; its autonomous drones can help revive inactive sections of underground mines

Among the first cohort of technology start-ups is Exyn Technologies; its autonomous drones can help revive inactive sections of underground mines

The future of mining is not just about the deposits and reserves that have not yet been efficiently tapped. It also is not just about the people who will make up the mining community years from now - though both are crucial to the sector's future.

A central element of mining's future is technology, be it those ideas which keep miners safe, keep mining equipment moving in the most optimised manner, new ideas that will keep commodities moving from pit to port, or that reduce or even eliminate the ecological impact of the industry.

In order to advance the natural resources and mining industries with a focus on sustainable and socially responsible solutions, Indian mining conglomerate Vimson Group and New York-headquartered innovation hub Newlab founded Prospect Mining Studio.

The partnership supports top entrepreneurs, engineers, inventors, and prominent researchers to advance the natural resource and mining industries. The program explores opportunities in prospecting and surveying, exploration, mine design and planning, closed loop production, and mine closure and mitigation.

Newlab is a tech firm with over 800 inventors, engineers and entrepreneurs applying their respective technologies to better health, environment, infrastructure and and other sectors, and many have taken on mining alongside other industries they represent.

In late 2019, Prospect Mining Studio launched an open call for entrepreneurs and researchers to apply their technology to address the mining industry's most pressing challenges. The studio received 70 applications from six continents.

In December 2019, it convened a one-day summit at the Newlab headquarters in Brooklyn to bring together the startups with mining companies, academic researchers and corporations with the goal of finding the most compelling opportunities. It used the topics uncovered at the workshop to guide its application review process, identifying opportunities on tailings remediation and robotics and automation as well as new models of data analysis and predictive analytics.

It subsequently picked 15 companies for its inaugural cohort and is currently supporting each team to deploy pilots at sites of the Vimson group or a partner, with the ultimate goal of advancing the mining industry with a focus on sustainable and socially responsible solutions.

"Prospect is currently developing prototyping and pilot opportunities for these startups and engaging additional mining partners," Newlab noted. "The studio has also progressed diligence activities with a few companies to make its first investments for the program."

"Prospect will continue collaborating with its stakeholders to commercialise new products and assist startups to scale up into the mining industry, all while driving investment and disrupting the status quo." 

The prospect cohort

Each company of the Prospect Mining Studio cohort has its own take on something that may well shape the industry's future in a significant and lasting way.

Vimson Group director and Prospect Mining Studio co-founder Vivek Salgaocar said of the chosen companies: "This year more than ever before, the world is looking to sustainable, responsible solutions, and the mining industry is no different.

However, rather than seeing this as a hurdle, Prospect sees this as a tremendous opportunity, and has selected and continues to seek out promising startups that provide environmentally and socially responsible solutions that directly contribute to the profitability of a company, thereby ensuring acceptance and implementation."

Allied Microbiota - Stony Brook, New York

Allied Microbiota develops microbes and their enzymes to clean up environmental contamination and create sustainable bio-chemicals. Their disruptive augmentation cultures have shown groundbreaking results to treat polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins and chlorinated compounds in soil and sediments.

Founded in 2017 by Ray Sambrotto and Frana James from Columbia University, Allied Microbiota has developed bioremediation methods using naturally isolated bacterial cultures and their enzymes for the remediation of soil, sediments and groundwater using techniques like composting and flowthrough reactors.

"While the environmental remediation industry has expanded significantly in the past few decades, its capabilities remain far below that needed to reduce the inventory of contaminated soils and sediments," it said of its work.

Carbon Upcycling Technologies - Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Carbon Upcycling Technologies (CUT) converts CO2 gas emissions from point sources such as power plants into solid products. Its technology chemically absorbs CO2 emissions into exfoliated inorganic solids to create a portfolio of fine nanoparticles.

From those it produces functional additives for use in plastics, consumer products, pre-cast, ready-mix and others, with its system working in just a few steps: placement of graphite and fly ash powder feed stocks in its reactor, pressurization with gaseous CO3, and the resulting nanoparticule additives for commercial applications.

In May 2020 the company took delivery of a new carbon dioxide capture at its energy centre.

CyanoGuard AG - Zurich, Switzerland 

CyanoGuard combines chemical sensing technology with a cloudbased data visualisation and analysis solution that enables further integration of sensor data for monitoring and optimization of cyanide usage in gold leaching processes.

The group's first product, which can test for cyanide, is the world's fastest, it claims, giving a user accurate results in less than 30 seconds, no matter where they are located, and without lab equipment or training.

"[For vat or heap leaching], chemical detection and toxicology testing are a required and costly discipline across various mining categories and a myriad of other industries," CyanoGuard said.

"Cyanoguard has a vision for delivering a consistent, certified and calibrated product that enables mining operators on-site to safely and effectively execute this process without requiring deep technical knowledge or extensive training."

Exyn Technologies - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US

Exyn Technologies develops autonomous aerial robot systems, also referred to as autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles, for data acquisition and collection in complex, GPS-denied industrial environments. Their products can be used for tasks such as three-dimensional mapping of mine drifts and stopes, asset location monitoring, or search and rescue.

"Exyn's Autonomous Aerial Robots (A3Rs) automate data acquisition to improve operational efficiencies and safety," New Lab said of the group. "Exyn robots require no GPS or infrastructure, nor do they require communication during a mission."

The company is currently focusing on mapping of underground mines. It is especially interested in operations that use conventional cavity monitoring systems (CMS) for mapping underground areas, where cameras are placed on poles or vehicles and then taken through underground workings to record ground, wall and ceiling dimensions.

"Exyn is aiming to be a core solution for automated cavity monitoring and environmental control systems, key to making mining more efficient and safer for workers."

Innocule - Bhubaneswar, India

Innocule offers proprietary additives consisting of specialty chemicals and polymers to create products like dispersants, dewatering aids, flow aids, and grinding aids that are customised for customers to not only enhance productivity but also reduce ore processing costs.

With a client portfolio that includes companies like Tata Steel and UltraTech, the company's technology is quickly taking hold in the industry. It focuses on its flocculants for better thickener efficiency, dispersants for reducing alumina and silicon in iron ore, filter aids to improve pressure filter efficiency, and grinding dewatering aids to aid in boosting ball mill performance.

"High-grade ores are fast depleting and the processing plants are forced to depend on low-grade ores," Innocule said. "However, processing of low-grade ores is a challenge in the current mineral processing plants because those plants were designed for high-grade ores and low-grade ores pose many operational difficulties.

"Mineral additives are the only solution, and customized products need to be developed as per Indian requirements. Innocule has developed products that are designed to tackle operational difficulties caused by low grade feed materials."

LexSet - Brooklyn, New York, US

LexSet has created TDaaS (Training Data as a Service) using 3-D content to create photo-realistic synthetic data to train Vision AI models to enable development of improved computer vision. The approach allows users to generate limitless amounts of training data on demand.

It has brought its technology to several applications thus far, including robotics, retail inventory and restocking, supply chains and inspection drones, warehouse/ factory logistics and apps for augmented and mixed reality.

The company's technology can offer photorealistic pre-annotated rendered environments, segmentations, simulated depth maps and top-down environmental maps that customise a view with camera type, lighting conditions, occlusions and materials in a training set purposegenerated for each application.

"TDaaS has been specifically proven in making better AI vision systems for robotic object recognition and navigation, without needing photos in the training set," the company said.

"Others have tried to use generated synthetic training data to power computer vision systems, but they ran into the ‘over-fitting problem' where they taught an AI how to recognize a rendering and not real life. At LexSet, we have solved this by building our own physically accurate rendering engine, to accurately simulate real-world lighting conditions."

Lixivia - Santa Barbara, California, US

Lixivia has developed hydrometallurgical technology able to refine a large range of mineral mixtures which include low grade lime, dolime, various types of iron and steel slag, rare earth metals, and lithium. Lixivia enables partners to capture more value from their minerals.


LlamaZOO Interactive's Operations Command and Control 3D Digital Twin solution


Llamazoo Interactive - Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

LlamaZoo has developed a spatial business intelligence platform that can compile data from across an operation and provide a visualisation in the context of a real-world location.

It has the capability to combine spatial data sets - LiDAR, satellite, CAD, IoT, and GIS, just to name a few - for a single unified view with analytic and visualization tools, giving operations business insights that are tailored specifically to the layout of miners' complexes.

"The mining industry specifically relies on 2-D mapping tools alongside 3-D CAD models to plan sites," the company noted.

"By better integrating various first- and third-party data sources, the LlamaZoo Spatial Intelligence Platform offers a more interactive, realistic, accurate, and fully threedimensional planning environment that allows for better decisionmaking and cost-effectiveness."

"Based on modern VR and gaming principles, LlamaZoo empowers mining companies to think and act like data companies, enabling rapid digital transformations."

Novamera - Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Novamera is developing an integrated system using directional drilling equipment and imaging technology called Sustainable Mining by Drilling (SMD). It has been created to help define the geometry of mineral deposits followed by a precise excavation technique that is sustainable, safe and economic.

The company said its drilling system combines high-resolution subsurface imaging with directional drilling in a "two-pass process" to identify physical shapes of the vein. It is highly flexible to changes in vein geometry, providing an accurate result.

"The initial pass uses a diamond drill to create a pilot hole that is guided by the near borehole imaging tool (NBIT)," Novamera said. "The NBIT tool performs downhole surveys at regular intervals to measure hole trajectory and distance from the hanging wall and foot wall. The second pass utilises large diameter (0.5m to 3.0m) hole opening equipment to excavate the vein out to its full thickness. The cuttings are transported to surface using low energy reverse circulation air lift assist methods."

Objectivity - Sudbury, Ontario, Canada

Objectivity utilises AI-based algorithms to improve the efficiency of resource conversion drilling during critical pre-production activity, reducing project development timelines and improving investment returns.

"We provide software and services to support the engineers and geologists' decision-making capability," the company said. "We apply computation methods and largescale visualisation to provide a means for engineers and geologists to use existing information more effectively."

The company's focus is products and services to overcome challenges in exploration geology, mine ventilation, 3-D modeling and computation, data and process management, and virtual reality systems.

OneWatt- Arnhem, Netherlands

OneWatt predicts and detects faults in industrial equipment by ‘listening' to motors using predictive AI and their embedded acoustic recognition sensors (EARS). Their non-intrusive solution enables industrial users, plant managers, and owners to avoid unplanned downtime, revenue losses, and unproductive maintenance.

The system, it said, it adaptable and can retrofit to most motors, regardless of model, size, age, brand or manufacturer.

Phoenix Tailings - Woburn, Massachusetts, US

The US company Phoenix Tailings offers an end-to-end, zero-carbon solution to sustainably harvest valuable metals from hazardous mining waste, leveraging untapped value within mining and refining waste, economically and sustainably.

With a collection of primary metal products re-mined from tailings, it can help end-users to reduce production costs by using 100% sustainably produced material and no direct carbon emissions. Its products include alumina and aluminum, iron, titanium, silica and rare earth elements like cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, samarium and scandium.


A model of Pliant Energy Systems's Core Frond Hydrokinetic Generator - a mechanism for harnessing the energy of naturally-flowing water


Pliant Energy Systems - Brooklyn, New York, US

Pliant Energy Systems (PES) conceptualises, patents and develops novel technologies in the fields of marine robotics, propulsion, electricity generation and pumping.

For the energy industry, PES harnesses the energy of flowing waterways, from small streams to deep ocean currents, and scales them to MegaWatts.

RIO Analytics - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

RIO Analytics develops artificial intelligence applications to predict failures of industrial assets. By combining advanced industrial analytics and AI, RIO analytics has built a digital platform capable of predicting failures, reducing downtime and increasing operational efficiency. With a total of 17 patents to its name, it has collected a series of high-profile sponsors including the US Office of Naval Research (ONR), the US Department of Energy (DoE), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and others.

Tomahawk Robotics - Melbourne, Florida, US

Tomahawk develops multidomain collaborative robotic control products, serving security and defense, energy, infrastructure, and assistive robotics markets. Tomahawk's products are built to safely work alongside people and work in unstructured environments.


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