Finding more copper is going to be one of the great challenges for mining companies in the coming years as the world moves to a net zero carbon economy.
Glencore Queensland Metals boss Matt O'Neill acknowledged it would be a difficult challenge in an interview with the North West Star, but he is hoping he has at least one ace up his sleeve.
That's caving at their Black Rock project has worked.
"That project is on schedule. We've learned a couple of things from it and it is the key to understanding if we can continue to mine the ore bodies here in Mount Isa," Mr O'Neill said.
"We've reached the end of the areas where we can use existing method, or getting there over the next couple of years which is the stoping mining method for us."
Stoping method is the where surrounding rock is strong enough to permit the drilling, blasting, and removal of ore without caving.
Block caving is a newer method of developing new mines or extending the operation of open pits.
It is an underground version of open pit mining, and involves undermining an ore body, allowing it to progressively collapse under its own weight.
Sub-level caving requires an orebody with specific size, shape and fragmentation characteristics.
Ore is extracted from a series of sub levels downward through the ore body in a highly efficient pattern, using loaders and vertical ore passes to transfer ore to haulage levels at the bottom of the mine.
Mr O'Neill said for Glencore Queensland Metals to continue to be economically viable they will need to move to caving methods.
"Black Rock Cave is the first step (in Mount Isa) and it's taught us what it needed to and it's also done brilliantly well," he said.
Glencore's Ernest Henry Mining at Cloncurry, successfully converted from open-pit operations to sub-level cave mining in 2011 and after the first blast in 2018 the Black Rock orebody achieved its first production ore in mid-2020.
Two sub-levels are in full production with the third started in May 2021.
In June 2021 Glencore awarded the production contract to Pybar to mine Black Rock Cave.
At the time Queensland Metals General Manager Isa Mining Simon Pope Black Rock was helping them to understand how to use this mining method in other orebodies with similar ground conditions.
The unique characteristics of the ore body allows Glencore to use innovative drill and blast solutions.
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