From deep underground to the moon and beyond

Professor Serkan Saydam is driven, not just by a fascination of the global challenges and opportunities of the terrestrial mining industry, but by the intergalactic challenges and opportunities of off-Earth mining. His work in both points to a bright and innovative future for next generation mining practice.

Professor Serkan SaydamProfessor Serkan Saydam  is the Deputy Research Committee Chair of UNSW’s School of Mineral Energy Resources Engineering (MERE) and brings vast academic and industry experience to the role.

He is chair of the Future Mining Conference Series, co-founder of the Off-Earth Mining Forum Series and says his involvement in multidisciplinary research projects in five countries across four continents has led to his passion for two main research areas: Future Mining: Ground Control and Mine Planning and Mining Systems.

“As mining environments are becoming more extreme, and additional constraints are imposed due to improved social, environmental, and health and safety standards, I am interested in understanding the underlying fundamental phenomena of these needs and challenges,” he says. “Only then we can design appropriate technologies to meet them.”  
One of the ground control research projects Saydam and his research team are currently involved in is concerned with investigating the conditions conducive to floor deformation (floor heave) in the deeper underground mines.

“This work primarily concerns underground tunnel stability,” he says. “Deformation of underground roadways threatens the safety of people and equipment so it’s an issue to take seriously. It can also impede normal mining operations and the productivity implications can be acute. If, for example, a typical underground coal mine in the Hunter Valley stops for one day, it causes a one-million-dollar revenue loss.”

Funded by the Australian Coal Association Research Program (ACARP), Saydam says this project will directly benefit the mining industry through the development of guidelines for mines to better assess and control floor instabilities.

We have eight PhD students working on off-Earth mining, so it really feels like we’ve reached a critical mass.

Professor Serkan Saydam, Deputy Research Committee Chair of UNSW’s School of Mineral Energy Resources Engineering

“We are looking at understanding the mechanism, i.e. why and how it’s happening; developing systems to measure the movements in the floor; and then develop numerical modelling to work out prevention techniques,” he says.

Stress corrosion cracking (SCC) in underground mines is another current area of focus for Saydam and the subject of a large multidisciplinary MERE research project in collaboration with the UNSW Schools of Chemical Engineering, Biomolecular Science, Chemistry, and Materials Science.

Steel rock bolts and cable bolts are used to stabilise tunnels and roadways in underground mines, but they can undergo stress corrosion cracking. As mining operations get deeper, these bolts encounter more challenging geological and environmental conditions and their failure can result in catastrophic collapse of underground roadways.

“Five mining companies and the Federal Government are supporting this project and we have opened a world first lab that has created actual stress corrosion cracking failure in full-scale bolts,” says Saydam.

“We now understood the problem is caused by bacteria, but we don’t yet know how to stop it, and that’s what we’re going to work on. This is an extremely good example of a long-term industry-funded multidisciplinary research project.”

From deep underground to the moon and beyond, let’s now consider the phenomenon of off-Earth mining which, says Saydam, is no longer as futuristic as it sounds. “We have eight PhD students working on off-Earth mining, so it really feels like we’ve reached a critical mass,” he says.

The current global focus of off-Earth mining research is water which is accepted as the number one commodity in space right now and research projects are looking at water extraction on Mars and asteroids. “You obviously need water for life,” explains Saydam “but you also need water to be able to extract hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel.”

Saydam is an internationally recognised expert in designing off-Earth mining operation optimisation techniques and has a close relationship with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who, along with the Kennedy Space Centre are already using software packages designed by his team.

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