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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 10

I 1. Introduction

II 2. The Role Of Technology

III 3. Some Highlights Of Australian Minerals Technology

IV 4. Other Technological Achievements (in brief)

V 5. Export Of Technology

VI 6. Education And Research

VII 7. The Scientific Societies

VIII 8. Conclusion



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5. Export Of Technology

As mentioned in the introduction to this chapter, the initial importation of European and American techniques in the early stages of mineral development in Australia has been balanced by subsequent export of Australian technology to many countries, especially those in the Pacific area including New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Indonesia and Malaysia. In all these instances Australian based companies have provided Australian geologists, mining engineers, metallurgists, chemists, surveyors and experienced miners and mill operators to work with indigenous counterparts. The export of specialized processes and equipment has gone even further afield, and companies throughout Europe, the Americas, Africa, Japan and China are users of flotation, lead and zinc and copper smelting and refining practices, and the atomic absorption spectrometer, all of which originated in Australia. Some of the newest theories of genesis of ore deposits have been promoted by Australian geologists and have gained acceptance over a wide field.

To select one example to illustrate this maturing of Australian technology the case of Bougainville Copper Ltd deserves special attention. The discovery of the large low grade porphyry copper deposit at Panguna in 1964 was the culmination of a deliberate search that employed the right geological thought, the right exploratory techniques and people, together with the right corporate funding and support. The exploration group of Consolidated Zinc Pty Ltd was the first to use geochemical drainage reconnaissance with special attention to copper. After studying and rejecting a number of prospects within Australia the group (now Conzinc Riotinto of Australia Ltd) turned its attention to Papua New Guinea and ultimately to the Panguna area where drilling based on the geochemical drainage anomaly established large scale porphyry type mineralization of copper with associated gold.

The evaluation of the deposit was a complex exercise in engineering and economics, in which computer evaluation, at the time a new science in the mineral industry, was used to study many projection scenarios of increasing volume and mining rate. It became evident that if the operation could be made large enough it could be profitable through economies of scale to cover the huge infrastructures of port, towns, power and water supplies in a mountainous terrain with rainfall of 5 m/yr and in the political climate of a country moving rapidly towards independence from Australian trusteeship. To achieve maximum economies of scale the capacity of the concentrator would have to be the largest (80,000 t/d) single concentrator in the world, and the mining and transportation equipment would have to be the biggest available, with appropriate maintenance facilities.

The design phase which followed incorporated all current state of the art sciences such as on-stream analysis, hydraulic transportation of solids and computerised orebody modelling. Hydraulic transportation was adopted for pumping the 500,000 t/yr of concentrates to the coast, involving a distance of 30 km and a lift of 400 m, a revolutionary scale of application of slurry pumping; hydraulic sluicing of overburden was adopted in the preparatory and early mining phases to dispose of the volcanic ash which covered much of the orebody.

Mine planning and mine design were assisted by the new generation of computers of the 1960s which made it possible to construct a mathematical model of the orebody and to study hundreds of mining alternatives which would ensure maximum extraction of copper and gold over the longest economic life commensurate with optimum profitability.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Bougainville Copper Ltd; Consolidated Zinc Pty Ltd; Conzinc Riotinto of Australia Ltd (C.R.A.)

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 770 - 771, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher