Nickel's Yabulu Refinery tailings dam outside Townsville
Nickel's Yabulu Refinery tailings dam outside Townsville CAMERON LAIRD

Marine satellites could make mines safer and cheaper to run

SATELLITES designed to save sailors in emergencies could be used to remotely control and monitor isolated mining sites in Queensland.

Speaking from the Sydney Future of Mining Conference, Inmarsat mining innovation director Joe Carr said despite being in an advanced country, miners in remote parts of Australia faced similar problems to operations in Antarctica.

"I've worked in weird and wonderful places like Antarctica and Africa where connectivity is the huge challenge," he said.

"When you are exploring or operating in parts of remote Queensland or Western Australia the challenge is not much different. The fact you are in Australia doesn't help change that."

Satellite communications company Inmarsat is providing real-time monitoring of tailings dams and operating a remote station's lights and pumps.

Tailings dams are filled with mine waste and by-product.

A 2018 Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines report found improperly designed, operated or maintained tailings dams "have in the past contributed to a number of high-consequence accidents and environmental disasters".

Mr Carr said the British company believed the Queensland mining sector could significantly benefit from increased connectivity.

"It means a company could connect their existing safety systems at multiple dams all over the world and monitor them in real time," he said.

"This information could then report to the cloud where it can be shared with people in the company or third party regulators."

Mr Carr said the remote monitoring system had only been introduced weeks ago and the company was in discussions with mining companies globally about introducing it.

He said using satellite networks meant workers may no longer have to drive hundreds of kilometres to remote sites to check fuel levels or turn on lights. It could all be done through smart devices connected through the satellite network.

Mining companies have been looking to introduce networked and autonomous systems for more than a decade.

In 2008 Rio Tinto introduced a Mine of the Future program including a Perth-based operations centre designed to operate all mines from a central office.

The United Nations founded Inmarsat to build a satellite communications network for the maritime industry in 1979. It was privatised in 1999 and operates a planet-spanning satellite communications network. -NewsRegional