Marco Ruiz Hernandez, Robotics Director,
VP Innovation & Marketing,
"In April 2022, Enaex performed the first remote blast in an underground productive mine in a demonstrating phase with our UG-iTruck without any direct human interaction in the process at the mine face – a huge milestone with no precedent worldwide."
What are some of the standout open pit and underground projects that Enaex has been involved in?
MRH: In open pit mining we are deploying our remote operation technology at a big productive mine near to Santiago and have now switched from a trial period to a more steady operation where we are implementing remote loading of blasting agents. I strongly believe that this is only the first step of the technology deployment; we can start thinking about a fully remote operated mine and integrating our system with other remote fleet or equipment. We have many options and future developments of our technology at open pit mines, ranging from remote operation, autonomous operation, and integration with other processes such as drilling and haulage.
Related to underground mining, Enaex has partnered with Division El Teniente at Codelco to deploy our autonomous solution for underground mining – we will implement our remote technology for autonomous loading for tunnel development in an underground mine. In April 2022, Enaex performed the first remote blast in an underground productive mine in a demonstrating phase with our UG-iTruck without any direct human interaction in the process at the mine face – a huge milestone with no precedent worldwide. We are continuing with testing activities and getting the authorities approvals to start a trial period of this technology in Codelco.
Could you provide examples of how the explosives and blasting space is becoming more sustainable?
PW: A particular example is the project we are developing to use green hydrogen produced from electrolysis using renewable energy to produce green ammonia, which is the main raw material for our blasting agents. Another example is the use of real data and innovative solutions to optimize the design and execution of the blast, making it more productive and therefore consuming les resources.
MRH: Regarding green ammonia, Enaex recently submitted the ammonia processing plant construction project as a part of “HyEx – Ammonia Synthesis”. This project will be the first green ammonia production plant in Chile with an annual production of 18,000 t/y created from green hydrogen and renewable energy. It will serve as a pioneer in the implementation and study of new technologies and efficiencies in the production of ammonia. The ammonia produced will be used in the Enaex plant in Mejillones, Chile, to produce ammonium nitrate, a fundamental element to supply the requirements in the blasting processes for the mining industry.
The plant is part of the HyEx project developed jointly with Engie, whose objective is to use the region’s high renewable energy potential to produce a carbon-neutral fuel that will make it possible, at a competitive cost, to replace fossil fuels in the future and thus contribute to the decarbonization of the atmosphere.
The most important thing for us is to be able to contribute to the development of green and carbon-neutral mining. This project alone will mean a reduction of 30,000 t/y of CO2 equivalent and, if we are then able to develop its second phase, considering the complete ammonia consumption of our plant, it will reduce more than 1 million t/t of CO2.
When it comes to robotics, can you explain the ways in which productivity and safety can be improved?
MRH: The benefits of robotics and automation depend on the specific situation. In some cases, technology can add productive hours to the mining value chain, resulting in increased throughput of mines and thus more profitability. Robotics and automation can lead to increased productivity and safety in operations as the human factor is taken out of dangerous situations and put in a control room from where operations can be conducted. The maximum potential of these technologies can be reached if you have all the processes connected and interacting with each other in an ecosystem of autonomous machinery.
An example of this is what Autonomous Solutions, Inc (ASI) is doing in the conception and the design of management tools to integrate remote equipment for the autonomous mines of the future. ASI is one of Enaex’s key partners and we are working to integrate all the links (especially the blasting) in the chain related with the mining process and reach a new and better global optimum.