Remote sensing technologies drive innovations in energy resources
Dr Simit Raval explains how he is improving environmental outcomes and safety in mining operations using cutting edge technologies.
With over two decades of combined experience in industry and academia, Dr Simit Raval has spent his career specialising in the integration of sensing technologies to drive applied innovation in the mining, environmental and civil engineering sectors.
In 2011, he was instrumental in establishing the UNSW Laboratory for Imaging the Mining Environment (LIME), as part of the Australian Centre for Sustainable Mining Practices, which comes under the School of Minerals and Energy Resources Engineering.
“LIME’s mission is to develop mining-specific applications for remote smart-sensing technologies (i.e. satellite-based, UAV-based and ground-based sensors), that identify, and help mitigate, the environmental impact of mining as well as improve safety in the industry,” he says.
“Our work is current because mining operations are undergoing a rapid transition towards automation, remote operations, robotics and artificial intelligence. These are very new cross-disciplinary areas and require the industry to harness different kinds of expertise.”
Raval says LIME’s PhD scholars reflect these multidisciplinary changes. “I have students with electronics and robotics backgrounds working with me to help design the hardware, software and coding for these new application specific systems,” he explains.
In terms of improving safety, Raval says one example is a recently completed ACARP (Australian Coal Association Research Program) project where his team used the LiDAR surveying method on UAVs to examine and monitor the structural features of highwall mining from a stability point of view.
Another ACARP project with a safety focus, which started in late 2018, has his team developing a new underground scanning technology and protocols that will provide accurate and timely mapping and monitoring solutions to measure floor heave or changes to the roof.
Our work is current because mining operations are undergoing a rapid transition towards automation, remote operations, robotics and artificial intelligence. These are very new cross-disciplinary areas and require the industry to harness different kinds of expertise.
Dr Simit Raval, Co-Director of the Laboratory for Imaging of the Mining Environment
Improving the environmental outcomes of mining projects has been a big driver in Raval’s work, and he has pioneered a technique that he hopes will revolutionise how mining operations are planned, monitored and rehabilitated. He has coined the phrase ‘fingerprinting of mining ecospace’ to describe the innovative work he is doing.
“Fingerprinting of the mining ecospace is concerned with making sure we have gathered enough information about the land before the mining operation starts, i.e. biodiversity, water quality, soil, species density and overall health conditions, so the site can be rehabilitated to its prior condition, or even improved with specific design goals, after the mine has closed,” he explains.
The method involves using hyperspectral sensors, which can give plant health parameters to the chlorophyll level, mounted on drones to ‘fingerprint’ the site prior to the mining operation commencing. Raval says that this method will not only help mines adhere to the more stringent environmental regulations that are coming in, but will help them succeed in getting the ‘social licence to operate’.
“It will help improve the reputation and perception of mining operations if they can give a clear picture of exactly how they will monitor the mine during its operation and what rehabilitation will look like once the site closes down,” he continues.
According to Raval, this ecospace fingerprinting technology has already been used in collaboration with a coal mine operating beneath a wetland in NSW but is also garnering interest from other quarters.
“We recently collaborated on a project with a company in NSW who use drones to map farmlands and agriculture. Using our fingerprinting methods, we developed a conversion tool that fed their drone-based imaging directly into a farm management system. This enabled farmers to identify areas that needed additional watering or fertiliser application,” he says.
Another interesting use for their technology involves their petroleum engineering colleagues and Raval’s team have recently embarked on a three-year project to monitor the effectiveness of carbon dioxide sequestration. “Once we try to store carbon dioxide in the ground, it will be incredibly important to see whether it leaks out or not,” he continues.
Energy resources engineering is a rapidly changing field and Raval says his research aims to help the mining industry become as autonomous and safe as possible. “Ultimately, I’m interested in taking humans away from danger and creating innovative diagnostic tools that can help protect our environment into the future,” he says.
Written by: Penny Jones