Digital Mining

Coordinators: Joaquín Fontbona and Alejandro Jofré

The mining industry faces mayor global challenges today, due to lower ore grades, unprecedented extraction conditions and increasing sustainability or environmental issues. The digital mining group at CMM develops mathematics to understand complex phenomena in this sector, providing state-of-the-art models and algorithms to support design or operational decision-making, and adding value to existing technologies. We collaborate in this endeavor with central actors in the Chilean mining industry as well as with innovative technological suppliers in this sector.

A central focus of our work is the development of models and algorithms to simulate, assess, forecast and control the risks of geomechanical instability and hazardous seismicity, induced by the block-caving mining process, integrating the automatic analysis of micro-seismic data and different types of field measurements. This is a crucial issue to ensure the safety and economic viability for the next decades, of ever larger and deeper underground operations, such as the recently opened El Teniente New Level and Chuquicamata Underground mines. A second focus is the mathematical analysis and simulation of mineral processing unit operations like thickeners, filtering devices and flotation columns, as well as flows of concentrated pulps found in tailing disposals and of contaminants originated in solvent extraction and leaching processes. Finally, our work also focuses on developing mathematical tools for geomatics and satellite imaging, designed for the remote monitoring of different aspects of the mining activity, the safety of the operations and their impact on the environment.

These developments rely on mathematical ideas and tools from inverses problems, PDE methods, stochastic algorithms, statistics, machine learning, signal and image processing techniques and calculus of variations.

Current and forthcoming projects include:

  • Passive seismic tomography algorithms, able to dynamically measure local stress variations in heterogeneous rock masses in underground mines in real-time, and in a noninvasive way, using large volumes of micro-seismic data registered in large underground mines such as El Teniente.
  • Large-scale probabilistic simulations algorithms of random fracture networks, to assess the local stability of excavations and predict or prevent failures of blocks, slope or tunnels, on the basis of field-data of rock discontinuities.
  • Numerical analysis and algorithms for coupled transport-flow systems, conservation laws with discontinuous flux and degenerate convection-diffusion equations, arising in mining processes. Future work will also focus on models for salinity, chemical reactions, and fluid-structure interactions.
  • Mechanical models and numerical methods for the propagation of damage in rock masses, to understand the relation between rock damage and spatio-temporal seismicity patterns, and to assess the effect of the hydraulic preconditioning technique extensively used in large Chilean mines.
  • Optimization under uncertainty of the geometrical design of mining infrastructure and fortification.
  • Prediction and modeling of landslides and slope collapse in open-pit mines using satellite and radar data.