Australian start-up, mDetect, a spin-out company from Swinburne University of Technology, is using particles from space, known as muons, to help mining companies detect weaknesses in dams that secure highly toxic mining waste by-products, making them environmentally safer.
The ground-breaking hazardous waste early warning system, using muon technology will revolutionise how mining companies monitor the stability of tailings dams, thanks to mDetect’s technology and a $1.5 million co-investment grant from the Federal Government’s Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC) Commercialisation Fund and partners to fast track its commercial production.
Tailings dams are used by mining companies around the globe to manage potentially dangerous by-products. It is estimated that around three tailings dams fail worldwide every two years, with potentially damaging environmental outcomes. Until now there have been no detectable early warning signs from deep within the walls to prevent failure.
Creating positive impact
Swinburne University of Technology’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Pascale Quester said research and education into space technologies and their terrestrial applications have extraordinary potential for positive economic and social impact.
‘Swinburne is focused on ensuring that the vital research we do has significant positive impact. The important work of mDetect, led by Swinburne’s Professor Alan Duffy, is emblematic of Swinburne’s cutting-edge research and our ability to market innovative ideas. This is paving the way for successful research commercialisation that provides real solutions for industries,’ Professor Quester said.
‘It is projects like this that best exemplify our vision of bringing people and technology together to build a better world. We thank the AMGC for their support and commitment to this important initiative,’ she said.
This aligns with the proactive nature of key industry partner, OZ Minerals who will deploy the device at their tailings dam at the Carrapateena Province.
‘OZ Minerals recognises our responsibility to meaningfully contribute to regional economic and social wellbeing as stronger communities create value for all stakeholders. By ethically and responsibly exploring for and mining copper, we contribute to a low carbon future and economic wellbeing, which helps us achieve our purpose and contribute to a better future. We congratulate mDetect on being awarded the AMGC grant, and the team at Carrapateena is excited to be collaborating with mDetect on the development of a fully supported, flexible 3D muon monitoring system,’ Myles Johnston, General Manager of OZ Minerals Carrapateena Province said.
‘mDetect is proof of the power of collaboration and what can be achieved when researchers and industry come together to commercialise world leading ideas. Their product offers a world-leading solution that has the potential to detect, prevent and mitigate failure of tailings dams across the world. Any investment in the prevention of tailings dam failures not only ensures mining operators can operate safely, but also reduces the chance of untold ecological, social and financial impacts from such adverse events,’ Managing Director of AMGC, Dr Jens Goennemann said.
The mDetect team pulls together the deep technical expertise and research of Professor Alan Duffy, Dr Shanti Krishnan and Craig Webster, along with the business acumen and start-up experience of Dr Eryadi Masli and Dr Jerome Donovan.
The mDetect team from (from left to right) Dr Jerome Donovan, Craig Webster, Professor Alan Duffy, Dr Eryadi Masli and Dr Shanti Krishnan.
‘Muons are heavier versions of electrons, that are made when cosmic rays slam into atoms in Earth's atmosphere. We have patented new detectors, that combined with powerful AI techniques, take an X-ray style scan through solid rock revealing different density structures,’ Professor Duffy said.
An innovative solution
The patented muon technology can provide intelligence on the internal structures and substances of buildings, infrastructure, and subterranean and aquatic features, opening up a range of commercial opportunities for the construction and mining industries.
Simply put, muon technology can look through rock to create underground images and detect abnormalities which will provide the early warning signs needed to prevent potential structural failures.
mDetect will work with local manufacturing company Elgee Industries and Swinburne’s Factory of the Future to produce the muon devices at scale. Connecting these devices and turning detections into underground images will be undertaken by Swinburne’s Astronomy Data and Computing Services (ADACS) software development team.
‘Elgee Industries is excited to participate in this cutting-edge project. Australia has the capacity to undertake advanced manufacturing onshore, and with the support from AMGC, this project will open up opportunities to propel Australia as a location that can offer advanced solutions to global issues,’ Managing Director, Elgee Industries, Andrew Mitchell said.