Stories from CSIRO at the World Mining Congress 2023

Other, World Mining Congress 2023

Clever machines making mining safer on Earth and, one day, in space

CSIRO’s Dr Mark Dunn will report on a mining system utilising 50 individual lidars, multiple cameras, and high-performance inertial sensors on production mining equipment.

He says that this technology combined with modelling, data fusion and visualisation will provide real time, actionable information for underground mining operations, making them safer.

The potential applications range from open cut and underground mining on Earth through to mining on the Moon or in space.



Application of Advanced Sensors and Digital Platforms for underground mining automation

Dr Mark Dunn Group Leader – Mining Technologies CSIRO, Autonomous Systems

Mark Dunn, Jonathon Ralston, Andrew Strange, Marc Elmouttie, Craig James (CSIRO)

This paper describes the innovative research and development being undertaken by the CSIRO Mining Technology Group to advance the automation and remote operations capability of mining equipment in underground mining operations. This research outcome is delivering new, enabling technologies that are achieving increased sustainability and productivity as well as providing a safer working environment for underground mine personnel.

 The full paper shows details on technical developments and results of large-scale experiments, field trials and industrial commercial applications conducted in underground mines in full production conditions. These applications include advanced navigation, localisation and characterisation capabilities based on lidar, inertial measurement units, radar and photogrammetry technologies. As will be shown, a primary technical requirement of this sensing functionality is the ability to accurately determine both the location and orientation of equipment, people, and the environment in real-time.  Details will be provided of the results of a production system utilising 50 individual lidars, multiple cameras, and high-performance inertial sensors on production mining equipment.

 Building on top of these core sensor technologies are new platforms for modelling, data fusion and visualisation providing real time, actionable information for underground mining operations. The platform automatically analyses the data to provide an intuitive exception detection system rather than a new source of data to intensify the operator’s information overload. There are presently no known alternative systems for providing the practical and accurate three-dimensional monitoring systems described in this application. This platform represents a significant achievement that delivers a step change improvement in underground mining awareness and safety.

 Finally, an analysis of the applicability for these systems in other application domains will be presented, with fields ranging from open cut and underground mining through to planetary technology in support of in situ resource utilisation (ISRU).

Deadly slopes revealed with computer vision and radar

Slopes matter. Landslides, mudslides, and slope instabilities relating to open-pit mines, natural slopes, tailings dams, and river dams can potentially cause catastrophic loss of life and infrastructure.

CSIRO’s Dr Marc Elmouttie will report on how CSIRO and Chongqing Research Institute have developed a combined computer vision and radar to create a high-precision slope stability monitoring system that will be trialled over the next twelve months.


Dr Marc Elmouttie, Research Group Leader CSIRO, Technology and Operations

Research and development of a multi-sensor high-precision slope stability monitoring system

Marc Elmouttie, CSIRO Mineral Resources, Australia

Houqing Kang, Chongqing Research Institute, China

Landslides, mudslides, and slope instabilities relating to open-pit mines, natural slopes, tailings dams, and river dams represent geotechnical hazards in China, potentially causing catastrophic loss of life and infrastructure. Slope monitoring technologies serve an important role in risk mitigation.

Non-contact monitoring technologies, such as Lidar, radar and computer vision, have advanced in recent years and have the potential to provide effective methods for early warning of slope instability. Such technologies can support continuous monitoring and support analysis of underlying failure mechanisms for improved slope designs in the future.

Individual sensing modalities each have strengths and weaknesses in terms of range deformation sensitivity, cross-range deformation sensitivity, atmospheric perturbations and illumination.

CSIRO has developed patented techniques to fuse different sensing modalities for slope monitoring systems so as to provide more accurate measurements of 3-dimensional slope deformation and mitigate the deficiencies in each.

This paper will describe research being conducted in collaboration with Chongqing Research Institute to advance this technology. The research is using a formal systems engineering framework to design and implement a system in China. The slope stability monitoring system, based on computer vision techniques, will support fusion with of other sensing modalities including ground-based synthetic aperture radar (GB SAR).

From finding cancers to sorting minerals

Mineral processing needs sensors, but they don’t survive for long in the harsh environment of vibration, dust, moisture and the hot and cold of mine conditions.

Dr David Miljak will report on CSIRO’s development of robust magnetic resonance and X-ray sensors that can measure elemental composition and mineralogy in real time before and after grinding, speeding up analysis and production. 

Now he is exploring the potential for real time sensing for rare earth elements and critical metals, direct gold bulk sorting and other applications.


Sensing developments for preconcentration and process control applications

Dr David Miljak Research Program Director CSIRO, Mineral Resources Processing & Refining

*D. G. Miljak1, P. J. Coghill1, J. O’Dwyer1

1Mineral Resources, CSIRO, Lucas Heights, New South Wales, Australia

(*Presenting author:

This paper describes novel sensors recently developed by CSIRO for real time mining and mineral processing applications.

The sensors fall into two broad application categories: (i) bulk ore sensing in the mine prior to milling, and (ii) sensing of slurry in processing plants, post milling. Bulk ore sensing applications aim to influence the mining process at scale and provide step change in mine productivity and sustainability.

Examples involve a number of sensor-enabled ore preconcentration strategies, include face and bench sensing, conveyor-based bulk ore sorting, truck sensing and in-pit gantry sensing for intelligent truck dispatch. These applications require quantitative and penetrative sensing that is insensitive to variation in rock size distribution, has robust calibration and long-term unbiased measurement capability to provide confident representative sampling of large ore volumes.

Applications post milling include measurement of slurry composition in plant feed, concentrate and waste streams to enable short-term monitoring of plant performance, advanced process control and real-time alarm capability for gross plant upsets. Simultaneous measurement of mineral and elemental composition is a particular advantage since plant mineral phase variation (either gangue or ore mineralogy) may have profound effects on metal element recovery.

CSIRO has recently developed sensors toward both mine preconcentration and plant control applications. The sensors are based on radio frequency or X-ray technology and are directed at the measurement of both elemental composition and mineralogy. Selected examples of CSIRO real time sensing technology and their use in various applications are described.

1 Research Director, Sensing and Sorting, CSIRO (, +61 2 9710 6710)

Hunting for critical minerals with Sandra Occhipinti

The copper, lithium and rare earth minerals need to power the energy transition will largely be found in hard to explore areas, buried under thick regolith or in deep sedimentary basins.

CSIRO’s Dr Sandra Occhipinti will discuss how we can find them faster and with less environmental impact. It’s about using new geophysical techniques, smart data analysis, and clever drilling supported by field-based sensors.


New technologies, methodologies for exploration success

Sandra Occhipinti[1]

Exploration for mineral resources, particularly to power the energy transition, has largely moved to areas under the cover of thick regolith or young sedimentary or volcano-sedimentary basins. These areas are very difficult to explore, with the footprints of mineral deposits not easily detected through the cover. In exploring in these areas traditional ore deposit models do not easily guide mineral exploration programs, as the geological signatures usually sought, like those of geochemistry are challenging to attain.

In order to overcome these challenges exploration using novel processes is required. For example, new geophysical inversion or analysis methods or technologies, new regolith sampling and analysis methods, understanding of landscape evolution and different ways of interpreting geochemical or mineralogical dispersion in the regolith or in sparsely sampled rock, under thick cover. Development of different geophysical analysis, including more accurate depth to ‘region’ of interest models to inform exploration will aid in both regional and prospect scale exploration programs. Reduction of noise in some geophysical methods, or faster and safer data analysis times could shorten exploration programs. In addition new drilling techniques, with lower environmental footprints, and field-based sensor led analysis for on the fly decision support should lead to more informed, and accurate decision making.

The development of these new methodologies and their integration through multidisciplinary teams working in collaboration with industry is leading to renewed vigour for research and development in applied geoscience. These are evidenced by large, multiscale programs such as Ultrafines+ for fine fraction regolith analysis, exploration of Indicator Minerals for Ni-Cu-PGE targeting, and machine-learning for mineral libraries from ‘at site’ sensors for support of drilling programs. In this contribution I will go through a number of these new developments, applicable to different scales of exploration and different regions of cover.

[1] CSIRO, Mineral Resources,

Blasting for net zero emissions

Blast design is optimised for plant efficiency. It can also help lower carbon emissions says CSIRO’s Dr Ewan Sellers.

He believes miners can change how they blast rocks to have efficiency and reduced carbon emissions at the rock face, the mine and the mill.

He will discuss a new concept he calls Blasting for Net Zero (B4NZ) which includes optimisation of blasting by changing mine designs, adding sorting, and applying hydrogen peroxide explosives.


Blasting for Net Zero Emissions

Dr Ewan Sellers Future Digital Mining Lead CSIRO, New Mining Frontiers

Ewan Sellers1, Kohei Usami1, Amin Mousavi1,2, Andrew Kettle1, Ebrahim Fathi Salmi1

The Mine to Mill (M2M) optimisation approach was developed at the University of Queensland in the 1980’s and 1990s (McKee, 2013). The system applies the theory of constraints to show that the only way to improve overall productivity in an existing mining operation is to increase plant throughput. In metal mines, this throughput is often constrained by the installed mill circuit. The mill throughput is, in turn, dependent on fragmentation size and rock hardness. When a mine is designed based on a small set of comminution test data and typical blasting models to predict fragmentation there is often scope for some improvement in the actual performance of the mill. Explosives companies and blasting consultants focus on creating finer fragmentation. Mill providers and processing consultants focus on mill settings and liner design. Both, however, are needed for the full benefit. This system has become well known, tried, and tested. Mine to Mill optimisation should be the keystone of the daily production meeting on a mine between the processing and mining superintendents.

So, what is next? The current issues that the industry faces are the focus on ESG and move towards net zero supported by the call to action from many mining company CEOs to comply in short time frames relative to the life of many mining operations. Environmental and social issues caused by blasting are usually the result of poor blast quality control leading to flyrock and local disturbances on encroaching communities. The solutions to these problems are well known, though not always implemented.

With the realisation of the need for decarbonisation, the Mine to Mill constraint has moved from throughput to zero carbon energy delivery in a very short time frame. Previous work (e.g. Brent, 2010) identified the challenge of carbon and began the quantification of the problem of emissions from the supply and detonation of ammonium nitrate in blasting. Other work (Sellers and Gumede, 2011) considered environmentally conscious blasting that mapped the ebb and flow of carbon within the mining and processing operation. From two cases studies (of a limestone/cement mine and a large open pit mine), it was shown that increasing productivity through improved loading rates saves diesel and electricity. However, increasing the power factor of the blast to improve throughput moves the energy and carbon demand upstream.  This may or may not create favourable conditions for moving toward net zero depending on the equipment used and the availability of renewable energy.

The next step from M2M requires a constant focus on Blasting for Net Zero (B4NZ). This paper identifies the role of each of the components in the mining system in their contribution to carbon footprint and proposes some opportunities for changing the carbon footprint in greenfield and operating mines. Some examples of B4NZ that are discussed include Grade engineering, Selective mining, Elastic Limit Blasting, equipment changes and In-place mining. As shown in Figure 1 the optimisation of blasting for an entire mine level and the addition of Grade Engineering using sorting creates a significant reduction in ore processing time and hence energy consumption. Another novel opportunity in B4NZ is provided by Hydrogen Peroxide explosives (See Figure 2) that have a very different carbon footprint to Ammonium Nitrate. Obviously, there is a cost involved and this additional expense or effort requires balancing to identify the most optimal considerations for specific operations.

The mines of the future: on Earth, on the Moon, and in space

“What are mines and mining going to be like 50 or 100 years from now?” That’s the question Jonathon Ralston is posing in the New Mining Frontiers stream he has curated for the World Mining Congress.

“We’ll explore emerging and longer-term mining opportunities for space resources, ultradeep operations, undersea exploration and rediscovery back on Earth,” he says.

Speakers including Swinburne’s Alan Duffy, NASA’s Jerry Sanders, Fleetspace’s Gerrit Olivier and Justine Lacey and Ross Dungavell from CSIRO.

Jonathon himself is leading a team to develop technologies such as In-Situ Resource Utilisation, which NASA will need when they return to the Moon. Producing just one kilogram of a resource such as water, oxygen or a building material on the Moon could save tens of thousands of dollars. 

He also leads CSIRO’s Integrated Mining Research Team with a vision of developing a fully connected digital mine with driverless underground vehicles, geosensing, advanced VR/AR interaction, and digital twin mining.

Dr Jonathon Ralston, Senior Principal Research Engineer CSIRO, New Mining Frontiers

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