Sibanye Gold is driving new mining technology hard to unlock more than a million ounces of sterilised gold it could not otherwise mine, extend the lives of its mines and roll out into the platinum mines it is buying.

The mechanisation of mines is a critical development for SA, particularly in its gold mines, which are decades old and face declining grades as they go ever deeper.

SA has the world’s deepest mine at more than 4km deep and smarter, less dangerous methods are needed to work at these kinds of levels. There are an estimated 1-billion ounces of unmined gold in SA and this technology could be the key to extracting a big portion of that. An estimated 1.7-billion ounces have been mined in SA.

In the platinum sector, where the dollar price has remained stagnant for years and prices have risen, technology will be a boon to lift output, an issue most mines in SA are struggling to improve.

Mining companies are spending about R1bn a year on modernisation and research and development on this problem. Success would extend the lives of mines by a decade or more, save jobs and could, theoretically, see some old mines reopen.

The crux of the work is to make mining safer by pulling people out of dangerous work, improving productivity and finding a way to operate mines without a break.

Sibanye, which was formed two years ago by Gold Fields unbundling three gold mines into a separately listed company, appointed one of its most experienced operational managers, Peter Turner, to lead the technology division.

There are two key technologies Sibanye will begin testing at its Kloof mine, west of Johannesburg, and its newly bought but yet to be mined Burnstone mine in Mpumalanga, says Mr Turner.

The work at Kloof is being conducted in conjunction with JSE-listed Master Drilling and involves sinking a 30cm diameter blind hole in a declining reef, reaching down about 30m and using water to wash the gold and broken rock to a receptacle. The tests will be on high-grade remnant and strike pillars left behind to keep underground working areas stable and will focus on reefs with grades of 50g or more per tonne.

Source: BusinessDay - see full article