Technology Penetration

Digitalising mining processes

The mining industry has been a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, ac­c­ounting for 4-7 per cent of global emissions. The recently concluded United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26) and the ongoing pandemic have fo­cu­sed attention on the need to go green globally to move towards a more sustainable future.

To tackle climate change, the mining industry is focusing on emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), automation, big data, hydrogen fuel cells and renewable energy that have the potential to improve safety, productivity and efficiency.

Operators are rapidly digitising mining pro­cesses to transition to a low-carbon economy. Automated drilling, excavation and controllable blasting are just some of the ways in which the traditional mining sector has been transformed by autonomous mining operations. Mining op­erations can now proceed without causing significant harm, with minimum collateral dama­ge. In modern excavation, especially in metro­po­litan settings, the advanced procedures and machines ensure that the existing morphology and structures above ground are not affected by seismic interference.

Equipment upgradation

India encourages 100 per cent FDI in coal mining. To address the rising energy demand, the country aims to revamp many coal mines. To en­able commercial coal mining in India, the go­vernment enacted an ordinance in 2020. The rule also removed the requirement for firms to participate in coal block auctions.

The US has captured the largest share in the high-end, specialised coal mining equipme­nt export market. The leading subsectors in­clude long wall machinery such as loaders, dr­ag­lines and jumbo drills; heavy machinery such as excavators, shovels, dump trucks, and coal/rock cutters; continuous and highwall mining technology; equipment for mineral screening, crushing, grinding and coal washing; underground co­m­munication and mine safety systems; and co­al mine me­thane utilisation/coal bed me­tha­ne (CBM) technology.

Drivers for tech revolution

When combined with management and mindset shifts, digital technology enables real operational gains. For instance, modern analytics and sensors are assisting in the reduction of main­tenance costs and downtime while inc­reasing output and chemical recovery. Robo­tics and semi-autonomous equipment are displacing humans from mines, thereby lowering costs and increasing safety.

The purpose of the government’s proposed technology roadmap for the coal sector is to transform the entire business value chain by leveraging digital technology as an accelerator. This will result in performance enhancements in coal mines, and increased productivity, safety and sustainability, while reducing the environmental impact through the upgrade of conventional technologies to new technologies.

New initiatives in the roadmap include surface coal gasification, CBM, web-based online monitoring, and digital transformation at the mine level.

India enhancing its tech prowess

Indian firms are foraying into technology adoption in the mining and allied industries. In Febru­ary 2021, Hindustan Zinc Limited announced its plan to introduce battery electric vehicles (BEVs) for underground mining. Meanwhile, Coal India Limited (CIL) plans opencast mines using the latest version of Geovia Minex software.

Zyfra announced plans to enter the Indian market with AI-based mining solutions. Further, Mahanadi Coalfields Limited introduced a robotic nozzle that will aid in firefighting operations and dust suppression in coal mines.

Developments have taken in the drone technology space as well. For instance, the Andhra Pradesh government deployed drones to monitor stockpile storage, perform 3D mapping, and volumetric analysis of limestone. Skylark Drones partnered with Tata Steel to deploy drones at Tata Steel’s Noamundi iron ore mines in Jhar­khand, Uttar Pradesh, for boundary and safety zone surveillance, compliance reporting, and dump and quarry profiling for volume calculati­ons. The Rajasthan government has employed dro­nes to combat unlawful mining. This can be a critical component in resolving a major issue.

Outlook

In a latest development, Gainwell Engineering announced its plan to invest Rs 5 billion in West Bengal to manufacture coal mining eq­uip­ment under licence from global heavy eq­uipment manufacturer Caterpillar. Further, CIL will invest Rs 400 billion-Rs 500 billion over the next four to five years, with a substantial portion of the investment going into mining equipment procurement.

Mining in India has the potential to significantly boost economic growth and development. The emphasis on safety, sustainability and productivity in mining operations has pa­ved the way for greater use of technology. Com­panies in the mining industry stand to benefit greatly from the expansion of industrial activity and the ongoing construction of necessary infrastructure.

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