New Developments in Australia’s Mining Industry
The WA mining industry has been in the news lately with several prominent headlines. From cutting-edge extraction methods to warnings of cyber security threats, there’s plenty to keep stakeholders engaged and looking to the future. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at two such stories and consider what they have to say about the future of mining equipment for hire in Perth.
New Environmentally Friendly Extraction Methods Promise Lower Costs
First up in this instalment is news about advances in mineral extraction. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently developed a new method of extracting copper. In particular, they identified the proper chemical mixture and temperature needed to separate metallic elements (especially copper) from sulphur-based minerals. This makes it possible to use molten electrolysis to extract pure copper.
This new process is important for two reasons. First, it’s a one-step solution that simplifies a complex aspect of mining. Passing a current through sulphide under the right conditions will decompose it into pure sulphur and copper. Experts say the simplicity of this approach has the potential to help mining operations reduce operational costs and run more efficiently.
The second benefit of this method is its environmental friendliness. Using molten electrolysis in this manner eliminates the creation of toxic by-products like sulphur dioxide, which are commonly associated with metal production.
Copper is in exceptionally high demand around the world, used in consumer electronics, electric vehicles and solar production. The ability to streamline its production and reduce its environmental impact is good news for the mining sector and for Western Australia at large.
And this isn’t the first major breakthrough that the mining industry has seen in recent years. Last year, scientists at Flinders University in South Australia were hard at work on their own environmentally friendly extraction solutions.
Known as ‘bio-flotation’, this technique promises to introduce more sustainable solutions once it has been perfected. Associate Professor Sarah Harmer told Australian Mining, “We’re making real progress in finding better ways to more sustainably separate valuable ores such as copper, iron, lead and zinc. At the moment we’re mixing together pure minerals of known quantities and purity and studying the effects.”
The technique involves using micro-spectroscopic methods and X-ray imaging to learn more about how various metallic elements are distributed through ore. They also involve the use of extreme light beams, which are used to identify the mechanisms through which copper ore bioleaches.
The scientists have already had considerable success separating pure metallic elements from ore. The ongoing goal of this research is to find ways to make this method more cost-effective on a grand scale.
Finally, another extraction method is being developed by the BIOMore project, which is part of the EU’s research and innovation programme. This method would extract minerals from deep deposits using innocuous living organisms and sulphuric acid to extract metal from ore.
Experts Say WA’s Mining Industry Is at Risk of Cybersecurity Attacks
In the wake of a major cybersecurity attack earlier this year, Australian businesses are being urged to establish stronger security protocols. With many mining operations making use of outdated computers and software, experts suggest that this industry is at particular risk.
The attack in question was a type of ransomware that swept through Europe and found its way to some computer terminals in Australia. Once the software has been deployed locally, it hijacks the computer system and will only release control once a ransom has been paid.
Australian businesses have been somewhat complacent about their exposure to cybersecurity threats. Many assume – at least partially correctly – that their geographical location protects them from infection. However, the globalised nature of IT networks means that threats attacking other computer systems in the world could also make it to Australia.
The ransomware did not affect any of Australia’s government agencies or critical infrastructure, but it has taken a toll on several small businesses. Cybercrime expert, Professor Craig Valli, told the ABC that Western Australia’s mining, oil and gas operations were particularly vulnerable to future attacks of this nature.
He compared the computers used in the mining industries to machines from the “Atari Pong days”. “The potential for damage is massive,” he said.
This sentiment was seconded by Nicki Ivory, the mining leader for Deloitte Australia. She told Australian Mining that the entire industry lags behind others in terms of cyber security. She said that mining operations using legacy systems were particularly at risk.
“Anyone who has those legacy systems and hasn’t got them kept up to date is vulnerable,” she said. “But it’s probably even more of an issue for the mining industry because it is notoriously bad at keeping up to date with digital trends.”
One particular area of concern has to do with the growth of automation in the mining industry. Much of the earthmoving equipment for hire in Perth is able to operate autonomously. If these vehicles were hacked or the system that controls them were infected with malware, the results could be disastrous. This is obviously where mining operators would much rather be out ahead of any potential problems rather than stuck dealing with the aftermath.
Experts say tightening up security will involve updating firewalls and segmenting networks so there are breaks in communication chains between various end-to-end systems. This helps ensure that, even if malware affects one part of a system, it won’t be able to spread to others. Implementing endpoint protection and a commitment to keeping legacy systems up to date are also important.
Industry operators have been encouraged to charter the services of a round-the-clock cyber response centre that can monitor systems, set up defences against potential threats and take immediate action when any malware makes it on the system.
Furthermore, The Deloitte recommends that companies cultivate resilience. In the event that a breach does occur, it’s important to know how they are going to respond. There need to be well-crafted systems in place that inform all stakeholders of their responsibilities in the case of such an event.