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Sunday, March 11th, 2012

Improving mining outcomes with the help of Israeli technology

Israel has almost no domestic mining industry. This fact has not stopped an increasing number of Israeli companies from successfully adapting their technologies in water, communications, robotics and even defense sectors to create better mining solutions in Australia and internationally.

Technology must be in the centre stage of all mining companies’ plans for the future. Using technology smartly enables mining companies to solve many of their outstanding challenges whether they are manpower, environmental, OH&S, geological or cost efficiency issues.

Israeli technology is successfully helping mining companies with their water and wastewater treatment issues. Often located in remote locations, mining companies need significant quantities of water for their ongoing operations and for their workers. IDE Technologies begun working in Australia over 26 years ago, installing a desalination plant in the Paddington gold mine in Kalgoorie, Western Australia. IDE’s Australian representative John Leibowitz continues to see significant expansion opportunities in the Australian mining industry, particularly with thermal desalination and solid waste discharge. In the coal seam gas arena IDE is able to extract components from waste discharge and reuse it as fertilizer and table salt. IDE has eight desalination plants running in the region and their Sino Iron plant has a capacity of 140 million litres a day, making it the largest reverse osmosis desalination mining plant in the world.

Many Israeli companies are involved in less prominent aspects of ongoing mining operations, ranging from BEL Composite’s high-pressure valves to Amiad’s water filters and Netafim’s drip irrigation. “In every mine there is some kind of water usage, whether it’s for the mining process, for washing, or for drinking, they all require water,” explains Nir Lang, CEO of Amiad Australia. Almost a quarter of Amiad Australia’s business today is in the mining sector. Lang predicts further growth in the sector as the mining boom continues and environmental concerns over water usage grow. Amiad Australia work across the country in a variety of mine types generally supplying filters and valves as well as some mobile desalination units.

The most successful Israeli companies in Australian mining have a long-standing local presence in the country. Some, like Netafim, even manufacture their products in Australia. Netafim is best known for its drip irrigation technology, which traditionally has focused on the agricultural sector. But, today Netafim sees growth opportunities in mining both through its unique dripperline solution for mineral heapleaching and reusing the water from coal seam gas mining for irrigated agriculture. Netafim’s irrigation systems can remotely “manage soil characteristics and growing conditions while using poor quality water, which is often the case in the coal seam gas applications” explains business development manager Peter Durand. He expects the coal seam gas sector to become a key area of focus for the company.

As a result of a small domestic market successful Israeli companies have a long history of working internationally. Many technological innovations have been adapted from their original purpose and applied to a different product. IDE’s Leibowitz said that the technology for reverse osmosis desalination was originally designed over 40 years ago to make tap water safer for dialysis machines. Today that technology helps convert millions of litres of seawater for everyday use, including in mines across the world.

Adapting Israel’s innovative technological expertise to help improve mining conditions and outcomes in Australia is still largely undeveloped. A smart way for the Australian mining sector to stay ahead of the game would be working with Israeli technology companies to help solve many of the outstanding challenges facing the sector.

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