* AngloGold aims to remove workers from stopes in 3-5 years
* New technology will also eliminate blasting
* Could unlock $125 bln worth of gold
By Ed Stoddard
JOHANNESBURG, Sept 19 AngloGold Ashanti
, the world's third-largest gold miner, aims to use new
technology to go 5 kilometres (3 miles) below the surface to
unlock 70 million ounces, a conference heard on Monday.
The drive to a $125 billion resource will see blasting
eliminated and remove humans from the stopes where gold is
extracted, Mike MacFarlane, AngloGold's senior vice president
for technology, told a mining automation conference.
"Gold production is in decline. Our aim is to arrest that
decline or even increase production," he said.
"We are standing on the edge of a major shift in the way
people think about underground mining. And it's a shift that you
see just once in a 30 to 40-year timeframe," he said.
AngloGold currently operates the world's deepest mines and
its Mponeng operation is about 4 km deep. But MacFarlane said
tens of millions of ounces could not be accessed and so "was not
making any money and there is no pull for investment."
South Africa's mines are not only the deepest in the world
but are also among the most dangerous.
The country's mines minister recently described the death
toll as "carnage" and said there was a link between the pursuit
of profits and the body count.
With safety a huge concern as South African gold miners go
deeper, MacFarlane said AngloGold was aiming to "remove people
from high risk activities ... The driver of this project has
NO MORE BLASTING
This would involve replacing blasting with machines to
mechanically cut the rock and removing workers from the narrow
passages known as stopes in the next three to five years.
It is in the stopes where a lot of fatalities happen and
MacFarlane said the aim was to replace humans using tools with
machines "so that nobody would be exposed."
"We would like in 3 to 5 years to have a working model
underground where we can start the transition to bring this
non-blasting approach across our entire operations," he told
Reuters on the sidelines of the conference.
Such changes would also enable the company to increase its
extraction rates from around eight grams per tonne to 16 grams
This is because the stopes currently must be 1.5 metres (5
feet) high to accommodate a person, while the ore body is about
60 cms (2 feet).
A machine can extract from the body itself without the
additional tonnage in waste that must be pulled out to fit a
Such technology may be needed to go safely to new depths but
it could also cost jobs, which is a sensitive topic in a country
of 50 million with an unemployment rate of over 25 percent.
South Africa's mines are a crucial source of employment with a
workforce of around 500,000.
Still, it could bring a lot more gold to the surface.
"This will potentially unlock 70 million ounces," MacFarlane
told Reuters. At today's spot price over $1,800 an ounce
that would mean over $125 billion worth of gold.
Gold's record run has made companies look at new frontiers
and sparked a wave of research and development activity.
South Africa's Gold Fields , the world's fourth
largest gold producer, is looking at robots and other technology
to boost safety and cut costs as it too digs deeper.
Its chief executive hinted in a recent interview with
Reuters that the company would soon make a major technological
announcement or breakthrough.
South Africa for decades was the Saudi Arabia of gold but
depths and rising costs have pushed it from the world's top
producer of the precious metal to fourth place.
But over a century after the original gold rush it still has
vast reserves running deep in seams spreading out from
(Editing by Jason Neely)