Responsible Extraction of Resources Through Smart Mining
RWTH Professor Elisabeth Clausen is the first female director of a German institute in the field of raw materials extraction. Her goal is to develop and implement responsible mining practices.Copyright: © Peter Winandy
Appointed in March 2018 as head of the Institute for Advanced Mining Technologies, AMT for short, Dr. Elisabeth Clausen is the first woman professor in her field nationally.
The Institute, which is one of the largest German research and educational institutions in the raw materials sector, strives to advance modern mining technologies, including interconnected, autonomous machines and processes for the extraction of raw materials.
Another core responsibility of the Institute, which is part of the RWTH Faculty of Georesources and Materials Engineering, is to provide teaching and learning for the “Mineral Resources Engineering,” “Sustainable Resources and Energy Supply,” and “Environmental Engineering” degree programs.
Raw Materials Form the Basis for the Energy Transition
As Clausen explains, "We are concerned with the responsible extraction of raw materials that we need in our daily lives and that are essential for the development of important future technologies. We can only talk about electric mobility or the energy transition if we take topics such as natural resources and raw materials extraction into account."
Even though a proportion of raw materials is returned to the cycle of materials, "considering the raw materials on which our standard of living depends, we recycle only about one percent of these materials, and we import them almost fully from outside the EU."
Another major goal is to develop autonomous systems and "thus contribute to creating safe working conditions and a responsible mining industry," she adds.
Automated Underground Mining
As Clausen points out, much variation with regard to the size of mining operations still exists today. It ranges from small-scale mining, with families working in mines with hand tools, to highly automated operations in which, for example, longwall shearers operate automatically using a variety of sensor technology. In open-pit mines in Chile, large mining trucks have been operating completely autonomously for several years now.
At the Institute's own Rock Cutting Center, for example, the aim is to create the technological basis for an extraction device to be able to recognize independently where it is cutting and where the deposit is. Ideally, the subsequent processing should also take place directly underground, so that worthless material would no longer have to be transported upwards. This would also make it possible to reduce the spoil banks so typical of the industry, apparent as dominant features of the landscape above ground.
"There are already mines that border on nature reserves and whose mining activities are hardly noticeable in the surrounding area. The extraction of raw materials is always associated with an intrusion on nature and land use. The resulting environmental impacts must be minimized and the land reclaimed as liveable spaces after extraction. Basically, tomorrow's mining will go deeper and deeper and will hardly be visible above ground," Clausen explains.
Mining 4.0 Is "Smart"
For several years, the AMT has been conducting research on technologies for a sustainable and efficient extractive industry. One key objective is to implement Industry 4.0 technologies in the mining sector. For this reason, aside from traditional mining, the institute today has a focus on digitalization and informationization in mining.
In 2015, Aachen hosted the first “Mining 4.0 Forum,” which was attended by 120 industry experts. The second Forum, organized in 2017 in collaboration with DMT GmbH & Co. KG and VDMA Mining, already counted 190 participants from 16 countries.
As a Smart Mining Conference, the Forum is concerned with strategic questions and the implementation of Industry 4.0 technologies in the mining sector, and thus has a strong application orientation. One main objective is to highlight the fact that the German mining supply industry can only keep a competitive edge internationally if it is able to combine new business models and reliable cutting-edge technology to create innovative products.
European Collaboration to Advance Mining Technologies
Since 2018, the Aachen institute has been coordinating member of EUREG, the European Rock Extraction Research Group, a consortium of RWTH, TU Bergakademie Freiberg, Clausthal University of Technology, and Montanuniversität Leoben. The goal of the collaboration is to significantly improve the selectivity and extraction rate of current and future systems in mining and tunneling.
In December 2018, in collaboration with VDMA Mining, the AMT hosted an international conference on the topic of High Performance Mining, where best-practice examples for increases in productivity and performance improvement were presented and discussed by technology providers and operators.
The new conference format offered a platform for an exchange on what high-performance mining actually means under the present socio-economic conditions and on how value creation in mining can be secured in the long term through the use of innovative technology. The event turned out to be a great success with 175 participants from 22 countries, 21 speakers and 16 exhibitors.