The University of Queensland has installed an experimental chamber to improve the safety of underground mining applications.
The enclosed chamber uses hydrostatic pressure to simulate underground rock blasting, enabling researchers to gain a stronger understanding of how rock fractures underground.
It is hoped that the project will validate advanced modelling tools to deliver safer and more sustainable mining methods.
The project is backed by BHP with SRI International donating the experimental chamber to the University of Queensland research team, led by University of Queensland associate professor Italo Onederra and Christopher Leonardi.
According to Onederra, the chamber will show how rocks react under specific blasting conditions.
“We can place a rock in the enclosed chamber, apply hydrostatic pressure, then set off a blast to simulate a deep underground rock blasting scenario,” he said.
“It allows us to see how rocks react under these very specific conditions, filling knowledge gaps in the fundamental science of rock fragmentation, which will ultimately improve outcomes on mine sites and beyond.
“We are able to combine this new capability with our rock characterisation process that uses specialised digital imaging techniques and advanced numerical algorithms for blasting and fluid flow modelling, positioning us perfectly to tackle some of the big challenges facing the mining sector as it transitions to net-zero emissions.”
BHP conducted an international search to seek the best team to conduct the research.
Onederra said the research will also prevent the need for waste rock and tailings dams.
“There are many challenges ahead as mining will take place in deeper and more complex geotechnical environments, making it more difficult, dangerous and expensive to extract the minerals and materials we all rely on every day,” he said.
“Our capabilities give us the freedom to think outside the box and study a number of areas involving the use of explosives to extract minerals in a more energy efficient and sustainable way.
“We are probably the only group in the world embarking on such different research, including unconventional excavation and crushing systems using energetic materials.”