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Rio Tinto sets up mining chair at UNSW

The University of New South Wales has established a new professorial chair in geotechnical engineering, bolstering its partnership with mining company Rio Tinto (Northparkes Mines).

[Image alongside shows a view of the extraction level at Rio Tinto’s Northparkes Mines in central west NSW.]

“This is an exciting partnership that will enable us to develop a world-leading research, teaching and training effort in the growing field of underground mining and block caving,” says Professor Graham Davies, Dean of Engineering at UNSW.

Block caving is a large-scale underground mining method suitable for accessing low-grade ore bodies such as copper, which often exist as massive, near-vertical areas of mineralisation.

Mine access tunnels are excavated to the base of the mineral deposit, where an extraction level is created to access the ore.

Following initial blasting to trigger the caving process, the rock mass then caves downwards to the extraction level and breaks up naturally under gravity and the effects of rock stress. From here it is collected and hauled to the surface for processing.

Research will explore how different ore bodies respond to block caving, and will develop improved design and prediction methodologies.

“This partnership recognises the importance of geotechnical engineering as a core element for successful and safe underground mining,” says Professor Bruce Hebblewhite, Head of the UNSW School of Mining.

“This is the lowest-cost underground mining method available and is growing rapidly around the world… and there is a significant shortage of people with skills in these areas,” says Hebblewhite.

Northparkes Mines – a gold and copper mine in central western NSW – was Australia’s first block cave mine and has more than 15 years experience working with the technology, says Managing Director Dr Craig Stegman.

“We believe our experience, history and future operations place us in good stead to work with UNSW to share this knowledge with future hard rock underground mining and geotechnical engineers," says Stegman.

Northparkes Mines has supported several undergraduate scholarships within the UNSW School of Mining and also regularly hosts UNSW students to visit the site for educational field trips.

An international search is now underway to fill the position.

[Image above copyright 2010 Rio Tinto.]

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