The founder of an energy-saving Australian mining technology startup has accused the industry of “posturing” on its green credentials, talking about future plans rather than immediate action to reduce its carbon footprint.
“The industry has a credibility problem,” said Andrew Job, founder of Plotlogic, which is backed by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and miner BHP. In an interview with the Financial Times, he said he was frustrated by the mining sector’s tendency to issue press releases and marketing materials in the coming years to tackle decarbonisation.
“If the technology isn’t available now and won’t be in 10 years, it’s going to take decades to get there,” Jobe said. “We need to focus on mining operations today and reduce our carbon footprint immediately.”
Plotlogic is one of a new generation of Australian mining technology companies hoping to reduce the energy costs of global mineral companies and improve the precision of processing large quantities of rock.
The Brisbane-based company uses hyperspectral imaging sensors combined with artificial intelligence software and vision sensor “lidar” technology used in self-driving cars to identify which parts of the mine contain the most valuable minerals. This improves the efficiency of the exploration process and reduces the cost and energy required to process waste rock.
“Without an orebody you’re just digging a hole in the ground,” Jobe said.
Robotics Australia Group President Sue Keay said Australian mining technology startups such as Plotlogic will play an important role in the decarbonisation of the sector. He highlighted companies developing robots that clean solar panels in remote locations and others operating drones that survey and map mining sites as examples of how the sector was spawning innovative companies.
“Mines are in the business of moving material, turning it from rock into concentrated mineral and transporting it to market. 60% of the energy consumed by mines is used by mining equipment, of which 40% is consumed in the rock crushing process,” he said.
Adrian Beer, head of Australian incubator Mets Ignited, said the country had a long history of developing mining technology but had struggled to commercialize it. “It’s been easy to take the innovation out of Australia and then sell it back,” he said.
However, he noted the growing influence of companies such as Plotlogic and 3ME Technology, which developed a battery management system that helped electrify vehicles used in underground mines and has since been adapted for military vehicles and helicopters.
“The time has come for the resource sector to be driven by technology and innovation, and not by the mineral reserves available,” he said.
Job, a two-decade veteran of the mining industry, left to run one of Anglo American’s coal mines in Queensland to complete his PhD thesis on the use of advanced sensors and AI in mineral extraction.
With proof of concept, he headed to Europe for specialized sensors used in offshore drilling rigs and re-mortgaged his house to buy some to test his thesis. The Norwegian company said it was “an idiot”, but now Plotlogic is one of its biggest customers.
His company has grown from one employee to 75 in four years and alongside clients including Glencore, South32, Vale and Anglo American, was able to raise $25m ($17m) this year in a funding round led by Innovation Endeavors. Schmidt’s essence.
BHP, the world’s largest mining company, has used Plotlogic’s sensor system to extend the life of its Yandi iron ore mine in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, and has also bought a stake.
Job said he would deploy 23 sensor systems by the end of the year, but the industry would need tens of thousands to reap the full benefits of precision mining processes. “It becomes a critical piece of mineral intelligence that drives the entire mining operation,” he said.