With an abundance of natural resources, Australia has made a name as one of the world’s largest mining economies, putting us at the forefront of many industry developments.
Mining news QLD often reports on the large open cut mines that supply much of the country’s coal, but that’s just one mining method being used in an ever-evolving industry. With a history dating back thousands of years, mining as a discipline has changed significantly, and modern methods are safer, more efficient and more environmentally friendly than ever. In this article we’ll be covering some of the most common mining methods used on sites across Australia to demonstrate a few of the techniques currently in use.
Australia’s Key Mineral Resources
Australia is a country rich in the minerals and natural resources that make our modern world possible. From coal and gold to new economy minerals such as lithium, cobalt, silica and more, most Australian states are home to a wide variety of mining operations. In fact, Australia is so resource-rich, that we are the world’s largest exporter of a number of key minerals.
The exact minerals being mined depend on where you are in the country, but some of Australia’s largest mineral and ore deposits include:
- Iron ore
- Petroleum products
- Natural gas
- Rare earth elements
Each of these resources occurs in different ways, requiring a range of mining techniques to efficiently extract and process the ores.
Open Cut Mining Techniques
Mining techniques have evolved rapidly, and open cut mining has become the preferred method for mining ore deposits that occur close to the surface. Commonly used in Queensland’s coal mines, open cut mining uses explosives to excavate large, sloping holes in the earth. As excavation continues, ores are extracted from the deposit and sent away for processing.
Open cut mining requires the removal of large amounts of non-ore material. That means it’s not always the most efficient method of removing ores, but it is one of the industry’s safest mining techniques. Where there is a sufficient ore deposit close to the surface, the economies of scale involved mean that mining companies can use open cut techniques to extract the minerals. While it’s especially common for accessing coal deposits, Australia is also home to open cut mines for ores such as iron, gold, copper and more.
Underground Mining Techniques
While mining news QLD likes to place the focus on grand open cut mines, many of the mining industry’s biggest developments are happening underground. The industry has come a long way from workers with pick axes toiling away in cramped tunnels. These days, underground mining techniques employ state-of-the-art machinery and automation processes that make the work more efficient and far safer for workers.
Some of the most common underground mining techniques used across Australia include:
- Sub Level Caving. When open cut mining techniques are no longer viable for extracting an ore, sub level caving may be used. Sub level caving involves drilling vertical shafts into the ore and then drilling multiple horizontal sub levels. Once the sub levels are drilled, explosives are used to demolish the ore so that it can be excavated and processed.
- Open Stoping. When the rock surrounding an ore seam has sufficient strength, the ore can be removed, leaving behind an empty “stope”. A stope is simply the open space left behind in an underground mine after the ore has been extracted.
- Longwall Mining. One of the most advanced underground mining techniques in use, longwall mining involves using machines to extract ores like coal that occur in large, flat slices. The machines undercut the ore and then explosives to demolish and extract the material. As mining progresses along the ore seam, the work area is supported by longwall shields that are progressively moved forward, allowing the excavated sections to be collapsed in a safe and controlled manner.
- Cut and Fill Mining. One of the most common and efficient underground mining methods, cut and fill techniques simply involve cutting, detonating and extracting sections of ore. As ore is removed, the void that’s created is filled with waste rock to provide strength to the surrounding earth.
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