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OPINION: Innovation makes Australian mining safer, more productive and sustainable

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Australian mining has invested $30 billion in research and development since 2005 to become a critical driver of broader global industry innovation.

The Digital Mine report the MCA launched in late 2022, shows this innovation has improved safety, driven greater productivity, delivered sustainable development and made Australia a top-tier three jurisdiction for mining patent filings to help create an industry with unrivalled success globally.

These technology-driven improvements are occurring through the mining lifecycle from exploration, development and operations to closure and rehabilitation.

Examples include:

  • Regenerative and kinetic braking to reduce vehicle fleet emissions by up to 35 per cent and operational costs by 10-15 per cent
  • Embedding integrated automation to improve productivity across operations by up to 30 per cent
  • Advanced artificial intelligence, virtual reality and wearable technology to improve worker safety
  • Site electrification through off-grid solar farms and switching to electric vehicles.

The innovators driving this transformation include miners, the mining workforce, the mining equipment, technology and services (METS) sector, original equipment manufacturers, university-led mining research institutions, Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) and CSIRO-led research collaboration.

While Australia’s mining industry is embracing technology-led innovation at an unprecedented rate, this transformation cannot be taken for granted.

It requires coordinated action and a shared commitment by industry and government to develop and maximise the substantial opportunities that exist to reaffirm Australian mining’s position as the minerals super power that will meet the demand for the important commodities for modern life and the transition to net zero emissions.

The recommendations of the MCA’s report are consistent with both the federal government’s election commitments as well as the outcomes it announced following the Jobs and Skills Summit held in 2022, including:

  • Improving collaboration to boost women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics
  • Identifying and formalising new skills in digital transformation for the existing mining workforce
  • Maintaining and growing support for industry-orientated research and innovation
  • Prioritising the recognition of new occupations by the Australian Bureau of Statistics
  • Leveraging strength of the tertiary education sector to guarantee a pipeline of mining engineers
  • Establishing regulatory sandboxes for mining innovation.

There is more work to be done and consultations that need to occur between industry and government to ensure practical, efficient and effective outcomes.

Tania Constable

CEO, Minerals Council of Australia

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