THERE was heartening news for mines at the recent BME Annual Drilling and Blasting Conference in South Africa, with views that commodity prices may be turning, and news of innovations that will save mines money as they struggle to stay profitable.

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Economist Dr Roelof Botha at the BME Annual Drilling and Blasting Conference in Pretoria.

According to economist Dr Roelof Botha, the volume of total mining production in 2016 showed signs of stabilising, particularly for platinum and iron ore.

“Also, in the first quarter of 2016, gold demand reached its second-highest quarterly level in history,” he said. “What is good for gold is, as a rule, good for the South African economy.”

Reflecting on exploration activity, BME managing director Joe Keenan said there were signs that confidence was returning to commodities, and it was unlikely prices would worsen beyond current levels. However, he suggested that global economic recovery may still be a couple of years away.

Notwithstanding the cyclical difficulties, he said that BME was still forging ahead in terms of cost-saving innovations and opening up new markets.

“BME has become an international company, operating in over 23 countries while pursuing business opportunities in large markets like the USA and Canada,” he said. “The year also saw our first delivery of Axxis products to Colombia, and a contract on the expanding rail system in Singapore.”

The conference focused on technological innovations in blasting that could reduce costs in mining in the short term while improving safety levels and productivity. A key advance was in the employment of emulsions in underground mining. BME, in partnership with Gold One’s Modder East mine, implemented the world’s deepest emulsion pipeline, and developed the infrastructure to use emulsion explosives in the narrow-reef environment.

“The system at Modder East is the result of three years’ hard work, but we’ve achieved what no-one has accomplished,” Modder East explosives and technical manager James McArdle said. “While we were already using emulsion explosives in development operations, we took a bold step forward. We have successfully installed and commissioned the world’s first longest drop Rapid Re-Loading Emulsion System of 318 metres to underground storage tanks and now leverage its benefits and cost-savings in day-to-day operations.”

Addressing the risk of lightning to mines’ blasting activities, BME technical director Tony Rorke pointed out that lightning strikes pose significant dangers to opencast mines. He highlighted the potential for especially positive cloud-to-ground strikes to induce the unplanned detonation of explosives, and outlined the advances made in the second generation of the Axxis electronic detonation system, Axxis GII, to mitigate the risk of lightning-induced initiation.

The 24th annual BME conference attracted over 450 delegates from 15 countries including Poland, Singapore, Australia, Canada, USA, Czech Republic, Zambia and Botswana.

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