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Automation technology helps exploit hard-to-access coal deposits

World Coal,

While thin seam deposits are a potentially abundant and lucrative source of coal, the practical difficulties of accessing them has thus far impeded their cost-effective exploitation by the mining sector.

A coal mine in Queensland, however, is looking to take advantage of such hard-to-access coal, through the use of automation technology.

New Hope Group, an energy company based in Queensland, Australia, has begun a 4 month trial of automation technology offered by German manufacturer, Wirtgen, at its New Acland coal mine near Oakey.

Wirtgen has released a surface mining vehicle that looks to efficiently and economically extract coal from thin seams. 

The company has achieved this by adapting automated technologies used by its roadwork machines - one of its mainstay areas of commercial operation – which are typically used to remove the bitumen surfaces of obsolete roads.

The developers of the US$ 7 million surface mining machine claim it is capable of cutting, crushing and loading narrow coal deposits in a single fell swoop, thus omitting the need for drilling, blasting, loading and primary crushing.

In addition to granting access to thin coal seams, incorporation of multiple functions within a single machine eliminates the need for other equipment, thus making the mining process more economical and convenient.

While similar machines have been used in mining operations in China, Turkey and the US, and also at an iron ore mine in Pilbara, Australia, the New Hope trial marks the first use of the technology at an opencast coal mine in Australia.

According to New Hope general manager, Andrew McDonald, the adoption of the technology comes as coal producers seek to raise efficiency and reduce costs in order to deal with variable commodities prices and Australia’s higher operating costs.

“We are hoping to see better yields out of our coal, and we are also hoping to see a better quality coal product come out,” he said. “This is meant to be a very efficient way to extract coal from thin seams, and it can also load directly into the haul trucks via an attached conveyor system […] it may also reduce the need for blasting, which could offer significant savings for mining operations.”

New Hope plans to conduct thorough tests of the new machine’s ability to cut and separate the layers of dirt at the top of and between the coal seams, as well as of the coal itself.

Edited from various sources by Sam Dodson

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