Innovative Technologies and Concepts for the Design of the Intelligent Deep Mine of the Future

Eco-efficiency and sustainability are important factors worldwide and across all industries. In this context, the I²Mine project aimed to support the transformation of traditional mines into modern mines in Europe. Universities and companies from nine EU member states designed the underground mine of tomorrow as part of the research agenda.

In the past, the complexity of rock behaviour and the interaction between rock and rock lining did not receive much attention. In addition, the existing geotechnical designs for mines are only designed for a maximum depth of 1,500 metres. Therefore, one of the project objectives was to develop a new hardware and software package to assess the stability of the deposit. In addition, an information system was developed that monitors rock anchors online and recognizes and evaluates rock movements and the resulting stress changes.

A further component of the project was the development of possibilities to improve the mining technique. Machines for mining and transporting underground deposits must be resistant, efficient and automated. I²Mine's project team was able to demonstrate that mechanized mining processes for the extraction of rock are possible even at stresses of more than 120 MPa by undercutting the rock. For this purpose, a method for the detection of boundary layers was developed. The aim was to increase selective mining and thus reduce the mass flow at the surface.

Another focus of this project was the development of a navigation system for steering the machines and a collision avoidance system in order to reduce the risk of downtimes with the aid of sensor technology. Also based on sensor technology, the team develops sorting machines that can be used underground as pre-concentrators to reduce the total mass flow of the preparation process.

Many decisions, especially underground, are still made by the personnel themselves and not by appropriate information systems. I²Mine therefore developed programs during the course of the project that simplify the decision-making process by integrating all relevant data. The aim: to develop a management tool capable of making decisions by assessing risk, costs and maintenance and evaluating them in real time.

I²Mine also looked at aspects of occupational health and safety. During the project, new methods were developed to improve ventilation underground and reduce methane gas emissions into the atmosphere.

In order to change the image of mining in a sustainable way, the project also sought to disseminate and discuss the ideas and concepts, progress and results of I²Mine, thus promoting a transparent exchange of information between the mining industry, science, European society and other stakeholders.