Thought Leadership: Is sustainable post-closure mine development achievable?

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All mines will eventually reach their end of life. As engineering consultants, we need to adopt an asset-transformation mindset where we carefully consider how a mine will eventually be transformed post-closure.

In its simplest form, sustainable asset transformation means identifying business opportunities that can be sold to investors by using as much of the existing asset’s infrastructure as possible. To succeed in achieving this goal, we need to navigate a multitude of financial, social, legislative, geographical and governmental constraints.

If we keep these constraints in mind and consider the fact that a truly sustainable mine closure has not yet been achieved in the Southern hemisphere, then it seems an unsurmountable task. But is it really?

Developing a formula to guide sustainable post-closure development

There is a Chinese proverb that says the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago… the second-best time is now. This is the type of thinking that was used to develop Aurecon’s Asset to Asset Approach (AA2AA). If the fact that a challenge is complex and hasn’t been done before were good reasons to avoid doing something, then we wouldn’t have planes, or many of the other technological innovations that exist today.

By applying the AA2AA on several mines and power stations in Australia and South Africa, Aurecon has learnt the following:

  • Sustainable post-closure development is even more difficult than it appears, but is possible
  • Sustainable post-closure development is maximised if it is planned long before the asset reaches its end of life
  • The most financially viable, sustainable post-closure development for the original asset owner is when their various departments are fully integrated
  • Sustainable post-closure development is only possible if the original asset owner commits to the successful outcome of the project
  • Sustainable post-closure development will fail unless there is comprehensive stakeholder buy-in and support

Sustainability is not measured in real time, so we will only be able to analyse the outcomes of our application of the AA2AA in the future. This means we can’t confirm its success based on historical empirical data, but with the looming risks of global warming, technological advancements and digital disruptions of our time, very few things can still be accurately predicted with regression models built from historical data. The world is simply changing too fast.

It is for this reason that we designed the AA2AA from first principles. It is this approach and the preliminary results of its application that has convinced me that sustainable post-closure development is achievable.  The AA2AA is built on two primary bases, namely innovation and trying to find ways to eliminate the key reasons for historical mine closure failures in the past.

Using a structured approach to unlock innovation

The +50 000 derelict and ownerless mines in Australia and the +6000 derelict and ownerless mines in South Africa are proof that innovation isn’t something that asset owners can simply tap into when they need it. Therefore, Aurecon has designed the AA2AA based on the foundations of design thinking which, although not a silver bullet solution, provides a structured approach to unlock innovation.

Some of the approaches that Aurecon built into the AA2AA to eliminate the key reasons for historical mine closure failures include how to restructure the digital platform used to manage information and documentation to ensure full integration; how to calculate and optimise closure liabilities to ensure sufficient funding at the asset’s end of life; and how to incorporate cutting-edge contextual analysis tools to improve risk identification and mitigation. The planning must also be robust enough to ensure relevance in an ever-changing world, while still being granular enough to ensure accurate liability predictions.

What Aurecon has learned through this journey so far is that if we can eliminate the primary reasons for historic asset closure failures, then an asset owner has a better chance of transforming their assets.  Experience on the projects we have been involved with has taught us that sustainable post-closure development will be difficult but is possible if we change our mindsets and the approach we follow.

By Pieter Scholtz, Aurecon Technical Director, Gauteng Resources and Manufacturing

 

 

 

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