How startup tech companies power big gains for major miners
Special Report: If the road to net zero runs through Australia’s resources sector, as Federal Resources Minister Madeleine King noted in her first announcement for 2024, tech is providing the turbocharger for mining companies to get into the fast lane.
From the dryblowers of the goldfields to the driverless trains of the Pilbara, Australia’s resources industry has long been famous for its technological innovations.
That trend is continuing at pace with the sector committing a globally leading $30 billion to research and development since 2005, as revealed in the latest Digital Mine report from the Minerals Council of Australia.
A major focus for innovation efforts has stemmed from the pressure to supply more minerals for clean energy, while also being more environmentally sensitive. There’s also a renewed focus on costs amid last week’s sudden drop in prices for lithium, nickel, cobalt and platinum group metals.
While majors have grabbed a lot of mainstream media attention for green steel and gas transition efforts, less well known are emerging technology suppliers making breakthroughs that support larger companies.
Here are three smaller companies leading the way in efficiency and sustainability, while removing people from hazardous situations.
Since its inception – when founder Dr Andrew Job was completing his PhD – deep-tech mining company Plotlogic has become a global leader in ore characterisation in only five years.
Plotlogic’s first commercial product, OreSense Digital Assay, helps customers increase output and reduce waste.
The AI-driven OreSense platform combines LiDAR and hyperspectral imaging technology with advanced machine learning algorithms to deliver fast and highly accurate ore characterisation.
Housed within a freestanding unit about the size of a microwave oven, OreSense can be used in a core shed, sample preparation area or on the back of a light vehicle next to a drill rig.
This enables the platform housed within it to scan everything from underground mine faces, blasthole samples, reverse circulation chips and drill cores in approximately two minutes and can provide real-time feedback.
Another testament to Plotlogic’s game-changing tech was the $US28 million show of support from US and Australian venture capital climate and sustainability heavyweights for its Series B funding round in July.
A significant portion of the funds are being strategically allocated in 2024 to expand critical minerals operations in Australia, North America and Indonesia.
Australia’s mining sector is looking forward to benefiting from a world-first move set to revolutionise drone use which was implemented this year by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).
The new drone pilot exam offers more accessible certification for operators flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) and outside controlled airspace.
It’s a change that has the potential to save billions of dollars in productivity for resources companies, whose projects are almost always in remote locations, as well as improving safety and cutting carbon emissions.
The latest Deloitte Access Economics report on drone use forecast the mining industry will save at least $2.395 billion in cost savings and productivity gains from the uptake of drone technology through to 2040.
One service company that’s seen a big lift in inquiries since the new exam was introduced is Perth’s Global Drones Solutions.
Among its clients for CASA and Australian Skills Quality Authority approved drone pilot training are Woodside (ASX:WDS), Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO) , BHP (ASX:BHP), Fortescue (ASX:FMG), Chevron Australia and Shell.
“We’ve seen enquiries for our training and advice more than quadruple since the new BVLOS exam was introduced,” Global Drones Solution CEO Mahmood Hussein said.
“Mining companies use drones to survey stockpiles instead of this being done by a person on the ground inspecting vast piles of loose material,” Hussein said. “Drones are also used to do condition reports on mining equipment and check for any issues, which is vital for their workers’ safety.
“Occupational health and safety is one of the most compelling cases for utilising drones at mine sites and gas platforms.
“They can be employed by OHS teams to assess incidents in remote locations, such as the bottom of a pit, which could be a 35-minute drive from the surface. Drones, on the other hand, can be flown to the location in a fraction of that time, providing aerial intelligence and enabling the team to offer a much better informed response and assistance.”
Closer to ground level, another technology that’s helping start-up and breakthrough explorers source, compile and map vital spatial data for targeted exploration is advanced geographic information systems (GIS).
A pioneer in GIS is Libertas Infinity, which has combined the talents of co-owners Shane Delany, a former Australian Army cartographer, and mining/mechanical engineer Lee White.
Their vision was to establish an economical web-based GIS mapping system for small to medium mining and exploration companies. This system has been developed to function as a central platform for all stakeholders and disciplines to work together using their own spatial data, thereby ensuring a unified and accurate single source of truth with the latest data.
The company now offers services across all commodities, including critical minerals.
“Our GIS system is an ideal system-stack for mining and exploration juniors and mid-caps. It can present and link together multiple projects based in Australia and worldwide while offering the same capability as expensive commercial enterprise GIS systems that previously only large organisations could afford,” Delany said.
“Web maps are an ideal medium for companies progressing through study phases along with their engineering, ESG, and permitting requirements utilising a web mapping as an effective and transparent tool to visualise and interrogate their own spatial data.”
Libertas has developed a cloud-based GIS system stack that can source spatial data hosted on an Australian-hosted corporate spatial database from anywhere in the world that has internet connectivity. This system is based on Free on Open-Source Software (FOSS), such as QGIS front-end for web and GIS and PostGIS back end for database.
The company also specialises cartographic presentation, such as diagrams accompanying ASX releases, as well as GIS personnel, field data collection software, and geological database management offering a broad range of spatial management and hosting services for the resources sector.
This article was developed in collaboration with Plotlogic, a Stockhead advertiser at the time of publishing.
This article does not constitute financial product advice. You should consider obtaining independent advice before making any financial decisions.