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Friday, December 23, 2011

Gold Mines of the Future


An underground waterfalls inside a gold mine.  Crusier


Future gold mines and mines in general haven’t changed much except incrementally in more then a century, a situation that has to change as mines keep getting deeper and hotter.  Theoretically it is possible to reach depths of 33,000 feet using existing technology, but at these depths human miners are not able to work efficiently calling for other technologies not depending on man.  There have been many advances in the scienceof robotics that may fill some of these needs, but other technologies are going to be needed too.  The engineering department of Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario is one of many organizations working on the problem of developing the Future Mine work is progressing at both the university level and in the R&D labs of mining companies.

One of the first things to vanish from mines in the future is the headframe that has been a hallmark of underground mines for centuries.  The mine hoist will no longer be needed as in most mines the hoist and cables will be replaced with a Maglevsystem similar to that used today on Maglev railroads.  There is no reason why the Maglev system won’t work vertically as well as horizontally.

Explosives that have been used in mines since the 17th Century are another thing that is apt to be replaced by a system developed by Noranda Mines that makes use of high energy electricity that is stored in powerful condensers where the power is channeled into a drill hole filled with water that is ionized by having the electrical charge funneled into a thin copper wire between to steel rods.  The resulting explosion caused by the ionized water is extremely powerful capable of pulverizing rock, and is far safer to use then conventional explosives.

The Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) has already been successfully used for boring many tunnels throughout the world, one place where it has been used is in New York City where it has cut the tunnels for the New York Water Tunnel #3 that is 28 feet in diameter and many miles long.  Variations of this system can be used to replace the system of drill and shoot that is presently used.  The use of the TBM allows very small suzes some as small as a beer can used to follow small veins in the rock that are overlooked during today’s mining techniques.

One thing that is certain as man goes further into the Crust of the Earth in his quest for minerals man himself is apt to be left behind replaced by robots.  Human miners will become redundant.  One visionary even sees robots the size of ants being used in future mines that would spat a bacteria charged solution onto ore bearing rock that would dissolve the metals that then would be recovered from the resulting solution.  Things they are achanging!

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