Moving with the times
Associate Professor Paul Hagan describes why merging the Schools of Petroleum and Mining Engineering was a savvy move andwhat’s on the horizon for the new School of Minerals and Energy Resources Engineering.
Associate Professor Paul Hagan’s association with UNSW goes back nearly 30 years, from undergraduate student, to professional staff, to working in academia. As the former Head of the School of Mining Engineering, he welcomes the merger of the Schools of Petroleum and Mining Engineering to form the new School of Minerals and Energy Resources Engineering.
“As industry changes, the university changes and our offerings need to adapt to continue to service the specific requirements of minerals extraction in the future,” he says. “These types of changes need to be reflected in the structure of the School and our undergraduate and postgraduate teaching programs.”
Hagan says the nature of mining and petroleum research is also changing as cross-disciplinary technologies and developments are transferred and used to complement the more traditional aspects of both disciplines.
“There are lots of interesting developments and opportunities on the horizon as we collaborate with colleagues from other disciplines and ensure the technologies we require in the future are successively integrated and implemented into the new School,” he says.
“Over recent years, the interests of mining and petroleum have become much more aligned. Central to this is the extraction of minerals from rock and the extraction of minerals in a liquid and gaseous state. A prime example is the recovery of lithium which can be extracted in a solid state from sources close to the surface, but also from solutions much deeper within the Earth’s crust,” he continues.
Hagan’s primary research focus concerns the provision of a stable and safe working environment in underground mines. “The common thread throughout my research has been developing mechanisms, improving the understanding, and developing new methods to ensure the stability of underground mining excavations and tunnelling operations,” he says.
As industry changes, the university changes and our offerings need to adapt to continue to service the specific requirements of minerals extraction in the future.
Associate Professor Paul Hagan, School of Minerals and Energy Resources Engineering
As time has gone on, an emerging theme across the mining sector is that near-surface operations are close to exhausting the supply of resources, and in order to recover more, there is the need to dig deeper.
“At depths in excess of one kilometre there are incredibly high pressures and stresses on the rock. There are also high temperatures and gases, so the new environments we’re dealing with have become much more arduous and require different types of support systems.”
Hagan says their research has been instrumental in helping mining companies, in both Australia and overseas, understand that not all support systems are the same and that there are important differences that need to be considered when choosing the most appropriate system for a particular mining environment.
In addition to digging deeper, Hagan says two of the most exciting future trends include the use of virtual reality and automation which are both heralding huge changes to the industry.
“Virtual reality is increasingly being used to help train people, for example to observe the signs of an imminent dangerous situation arising such as a fire or explosion, and how to react should such a scenario play out within a lifelike but safe environment,” he says.
“There is no doubt that virtual reality is expanding the range of scenarios that can be considered and trained.”
The other big trend is automation and Hagan regards this as a critical enabling technology. “Automation will allow mineral extraction operations into hazardous environments that wouldn’t otherwise be allowed for safety and economic reasons,” he says.
Hagan’s vision for the new School incorporates excellence in both teaching and research and he says that establishing the new school at this time is a savvy, forward-thinking move and will realise many unique benefits to students, researchers and to industry alike.
“The School of Mining was already world renowned for its teaching and research and importantly this merger will further cement us being one of the most important mineral energy resources schools on the world stage.”