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CRC-TiME comes at crucial time to drive sustainable post-mining transitions

Mine Rehabilitation & Closure / Mining & Resources

CRC-TiME comes at crucial time to drive sustainable post-mining transitions

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Within the next decade, several large mines in Australia will reach the end of their lifecycle. Ensuring that mine closures are done responsibly and with the least impact on regional mine-dependent economies is the focus of the newly-funded Cooperative Research Centre for Transformations in Mining Economies (CRC-TiME).

Sustainable and responsible closure practices have been highlighted as a priority by the Commonwealth Government in the National Resource Statement 2019. It is also viewed as an area where Australia could create new opportunities by exporting its technologies and expertise globally. To support that objective, CRC-TiME is looking to spend over $130 million, contributed in cash and kind by its partners on collaborative research and development projects over the next 10 years. The funding includes $30 million announced by the Federal Government in March.

The CRC-TiME is jointly led by the University of Western Australia and the University of Queensland, and brings together over 70 industry partners, including major mining and METS (mining equipment, technology and services) companies, regional development organisations, local, state and Commonwealth Governments, and research partners.

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The Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) are intended to improve collective action to increase the competitiveness of Australian industries. While the new CRC-TiME is still at the beginning of its collaborative journey, University of WA professor and CRC-TiME chief executive officer Guy Boggs believes the initiative is a step forward for the mining sector.

“We have a world-leading mining industry here in Australia. We also have well-structured government regulations when it comes to mine closure and rehabilitation. But what we have not done well enough in the past is to look at opportunity areas where we can position the regional communities to successfully transition post mining,” he tells Australian Mining.

“As a community, we have this understanding that mines start, operate and then just put back what was there before. But, as a broader community, we have never dealt with the issue that mines actually do change the landscape.

So that rather than just thinking about putting back what was there before, since we are already asking mining companies to spend millions of dollars on rehabilitation work, let’s make sure that this money is actually spent for the best interest of the community.”

Professor Anna Littleboy, from the Sustainable Minerals Institute of the University of Queensland, has been appointed as research director for CRC-TiME. Together, the two academicians will be hosting the western and eastern presence of CRC-TiME. She concurs with Boggs on the importance of shifting the focus to communities.

“One of the things that we asked ourselves as we went through the planning for CRC-TiME was ‘what are we trying to achieve with this CRC?’ And eventually the conversation evolved from asking ‘what does it mean to close a mine’ to ‘what does it mean to transition the mining community?’ Littleboy says.

 

CRC-TiME’s foundational programs 

Seeking to answer this question will be the focus of the first of the three foundational programs that the CRC plans to undertake over the next 12-18 months, Littleboy explains.

“Over the next months, we will be conducting a range of consultations around Australia for each program of research that we anticipate the CRC to undertake. We call the first program, Regional Economic Development, and this is where we anticipate the regional and community groups to come together with the mining industry and the state governments to discuss the best post-mining opportunities for their relevant regions,” she says.

“For example in the Bowen Basin where we have predominantly coal mining economy, we expect a whole range of conversations to be held about regional development. Researchers at the UQ and UWA, and CSIRO can all come together as part of virtual research teams to collaborate.”

And what solutions will the research teams focus on?

According to Boggs, these could include a range of options for the mining regions.

“Part of this might be around re-establishing the land’s biodiversity values, part of it might be looking at the commercial opportunities and part of it might be looking at the way the mines are constructed in the first place to ensure that the legacy they leave is one that the communities can use,” Boggs explains.

“There are a lot of opportunities for energy production and agricultural development post-mining. There’s a whole suite of different uses that mines could be suitable for that would help the communities that have come to be dependent on the mine to transition and be economically resilient after the mine closes.”

While the first program puts communities at the centre of decision-making for their regions, the second program that would form the foundation of CRC-TiME, Professor Littleboy says.

 

Economic impact of CRC-TiME

In this economic modelling, the CRC-TiME estimates that through consultative work with relevant research bodies and mining companies, and the resulting economic opportunities, the CRC could help generate as much as $2.4 billion for the mining industry and broader community during its 10 years of work.

The figure, Littleboy says, comes from detailed modelling, primarily driven through interviews with end users, the community and the state governments involved in the program.

“One of the issues facing Australia’s mining industry is that there are very few cases of successfully closed and relinquished sites. And if the mining industry cannot demonstrate that they can close mines, then obviously that has an impact on their ability to get investment to open new mines,” Littleboy says.

An independent study by the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) in 2017 suggested that up to 50,000 mines in Australia have been abandoned. In a study in the same year, the Australian Institute estimated that the number to be more than 60,000, adding that one case was identified between 2007 to 2017 where a mine had been fully rehabilitated and relinquished.

“We have a number of government departments that are very interested in the work that the CRC could do around abandoned sites. We will be looking at how to better remediate some of these legacy sites,” Boggs says.

“Legacy sites also provide opportunities to test and trial new technologies and innovations – which would be difficult to trial in operational mine sites.

“So we will be exploring whether we can use legacy sites as testing grounds to help develop new technologies that help with closing operational mines.”

New technologies leading the way for CRC-TiME

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One of the key industry partners, Decipher will be bringing expertise around software solutions in mine closure and rehabilitation, tailings reporting and monitoring, and data processing to the CRC-TiME. Born within the Industrials Division of Wesfarmers, Decipher is an award winning Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company delivering cloud solutions that aims to help the industry drive progressive closure and rehabilitation, and proactive tailings management.

Decipher chief executive, Anthony Walker says he is optimistic about the cultural change in the mining sector.

“Decisions about mine closure in Australia have tended to have little consideration of how the land might be used post-mining. However, this is beginning to change, particularly with increased stakeholder pressure, environmental concerns and regulatory changes,” Walker says.

The company is looking to leverage its satellite and LiDAR-based tools and data processing technology to facilitate research on mine rehabilitation.

“The CRC-TiME could not have come at a better time, and I’m really excited that we have the technology to help revolutionize the task of mine rehabilitation and closure, and ultimately improve those rates of relinquishment of land,” Walker says.

 

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Originally published by Australian Mining (June Print Magazine).


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