An Orica research team and its leader have been recognized for groundbreaking studies using a novel method of ultra-high intensity blasting to improve mine productivity. Ultra-high Intensity Blasting-A New Paradigm in Mining, authored by a team led by Dr. Geoff Brent, has been awarded the 2014 CEEC Medal by the Coalition for Eco-Efficient Comminution (CEEC).
Orica Managing Director Ian Smith said the quest to use the chemical energy in explosives to improve ore fragmentation and deliver a step change in mine processing efficiency was a priority for the global resources sector.
"This research is a demonstration of Orica's commitment to the development of resourceful solutions through innovation to improve mine productivity. The use of electricity to mill ore is usually the largest consumer of energy on a mine site and ore comminution constitutes a significant percentage of electricity consumed worldwide," Smith said. "Independent modeling has indicated that increasing the explosive energy by several fold can lead to increases in mill circuit throughput of up to 40% and savings of tens of millions of dollars annually."
Dr. Brent explained that "by utilizing explosive energy in the pit to produce much finer ore, we can dramatically increase the efficiency and throughput of the downstream comminution processes of crushing and milling. The overall energy consumption across the mining and milling cycle can be reduced with a consequent reduction in emissions. This is a step-change in ore processing.
"To date it has not been possible to blast at these ultra-high explosive energies, or powder factors, due to safety and environmental constraints," Brent said. "However, the new technique demonstrated for the first time that not only can these ultra-high energies be safely utilized but they can also deliver improved mine productivity and reduce environmental impacts in open-pit mines. The key to the breakthrough has been to use the rock itself to contain the explosive energy by the selective deployment of state-of-the-art digital electronic initiation systems in novel blast designs. The new method was thoroughly tested in blast models and then verified in large scale production blasts.
Orica says recent research indicates that raising blasthole-explosives energy by several fold can lead to increases in mill circuit throughput of up to 40% and savings of tens of millions of dollars annually through better material fragmentation. An Orica team was awarded the 2014 CEEC Medal for studies in this area.
"This breakthrough approach is particularly important given the worldwide trend of decreasing ore grades. More ore needs to be ground and processed in order to achieve production targets and this method has the potential to generate a step change in mine productivity, particularly in complex or lower grade ore bodies. It can render ore bodies that might ordinarily be uneconomic both affordable and practical to extract," Brent said. "The potential environmental benefits are also enormous. The technique has the potential to cut CO2 emissions associated with grinding by up to 30%."
Board Moves to Split Blasting and Chemicals Business
In another company-related development, Orica recently reported that it had completed a strategic review of its chemicals business, and as a result of the review, its board intends to pursue the separation of the chemicals business, either by demerger or sale.
In a press release, Orica said its two businesses, mining services and chemicals, are exposed to different end markets, industry drivers and competitive dynamics. A separation of the businesses would allow Orica to focus on its core mining services' activities and capitalize on its global markets for commercial explosives, ground support and sodium cyanide.
Orica Chemicals is a supplier of chemical products to the mining, water treatment, and other industrial, food and cosmetics markets in Australia and New Zealand, with a growing presence in Asia and Latin America. Its annual revenue is approximately $1.2 billion. A demerger would create a separate ASX listing for the chemicals business. It is expected that Orica Chemicals would benefit from the freedom to develop its own corporate strategy, capital structure and financial policies appropriate for the business as a separately listed entity.
Orica said it had received unsolicited inquiries from third parties expressing non-binding preliminary interest to acquire the chemicals business. While a demerger is currently the preferred approach, Orica said it will consider any alternatives that are in the interests of shareholders.
Orica is expected to provide an update on the proposed separation at its full year results announcement in mid-November.