As we prepare for another exciting Investing in African Mining Indaba in 2024, the theme of ‘positive disruption’ could not be more appropriate for the directions being forged in the field of mine blasting and explosives.

According to Ralf Hennecke, Managing Director of Omnia group company BME, mining has been facing the same winds of change that are impacting all sectors of the global economy, but has not just been adapting to new demands. Rather, the sector has been applying technologies that are taking safety and productivity to new levels.

“From our perspective as mining technology partners, BME can certainly attest to how mines are ‘Embracing the power of positive disruption’,” said Hennecke. “We have no doubt that this is a critical element of African mining’s bold new future.”

Sustainable ramp-up?

He highlighted that one of the many questions that will be posed at this year’s Indaba relates to how Africa will respond to the increased demand for battery minerals, and whether the continent can sufficiently ramp up production while sustainably managing environmental and social impacts.

“This is a challenge to be faced as much by the mining companies themselves as their entire value chain, and calls for long term partnerships dedicated to innovation and constructive problem-solving,” he said. “In the blasting space, we feel well-positioned to play our part – as our continuous improvement strategies have pushed the boundaries in terms of both sustainability and productivity.”

At the heart of what quality blasting is all about is to streamline downstream processes for mining customers. This invariably means efficiency, which has impacts on cost and carbon emissions.

Right fragmentation

In blasting, good rock fragmentation is key to unlocking the early stage efficiencies on mines, which are doubly significant because the loading, hauling and comminution phases that follow are among the mine’s most energy intensive. Making these functions smoother means that less energy is consumed, cutting costs and reducing the operation’s carbon footprint.

“It has been a long journey towards improving fragmentation,” he said. “While BME entered the South African market in 1984 as a pioneer in cold emulsion explosives, this was followed by decades of investment in emulsion technology and our range of electronic and digital solutions – as well as equipment and accessories.”

Electronic detonation

This allowed the company to constantly leverage its offering with emerging technologies over time, which it embraced by building in-house expertise and capacity. Among BME’s most valuable lines of development was electronic detonation, which continues to enhance blasting outcomes through its safety, accuracy, reliability and flexibility.

By allowing milli-second delays between detonations, and by lengthening our firing window, mines are now able to design increasingly intricate blasts to suit their geological conditions and production requirements. Mines have also been able to initiate ever larger blasts, thereby limiting their pit disruptions and blast-related downtime.

“Underpinning this capability has been BME’s own electronic initiation system – AXXIS – which is steadily evolved by our dedicated team of engineers, technicians and operators,” said Hennecke.

Software has of course been central to the positive disruption in the blasting space, and a key application has been in the planning of blasts. Today, mines can use blast planning programs like BME’s Blastmap to prepare each blast to the finest detail of complexity – then even simulate the results.

Safe blasting

A non-negotiable in Africa’s mines is the prerogative of safety, he pointed out. A high point for BME was its recent dual safety innovation in our flagship AXXIS Titanium system, where testing can be conducted at a lower voltage than detonation.

“Expanding our operations into Africa, we have applied our safety commitment to the same global standard,” he said. “As an active member of Safex – the international industry body focused on the safe application of explosives – BME applies the highest standards across our operations. This is reflected in our zero recordable case rate (RCR).”

BME has even made our contribution beyond the technical arena, and into explosives-related regulatory development in Africa. As a blasting pioneer in Africa, it was the first explosives company to be licensed in countries like Mauritania and Sierra Leone. Its experience meant it could assist government authorities there in drafting legislation that would pave the way for the responsible application of explosives.

Preventing oil hazards

In addition to supporting the mining sector’s drive towards lower carbon emissions, it has also been vital for mining stakeholders to protect the environment in every way possible. Where innovatively applied, he explained, these efforts should also lead to positive social impacts – a key element of the environmental, social and governance (ESG) priorities that are growing in importance.

“BME has managed such an achievement with our used oil initiative,” he said. “By systematically and responsibly collecting used oil from customers and other sources, we remove this hazardous substance from the economy and prevent possible contamination of water and land.”

By embracing the circular economy approach, BME treats and re-uses this oil as a fuel agent in its quality emulsions, ensuring that it is safely disposed of during our high energy blasts. The benefits extend further, as the company has designed the collection network to include small businesses in local economies around mines. This assists the social responsibility efforts of mines as they work towards promoting economic diversity and livelihood resilience in their host communities.

Innovation in blasting

To support the global move towards lower emmissions, BME’s parent company Omnia Holdings has entered into a partnership with Swedish-based Hypex Bio Explosives Technology, which is at the forefront of innovative and sustainable civil explosives solutions.

“Hypex Bio has developed a ground-breaking emulsion using hydrogen peroxide (HP). This first-to-market non-nitrate explosive emulsions reduces the carbon content of blasting by 90% over traditional sources. This technology has the potential to completely change the explosives supply industry,” said Seelan Gobalsamy, CEO of Omnia.

Bold future

“It is well accepted that the bold new future for African mining cannot be business as usual,” argued Hennecke. “While companies like BME root their success in an operational foundation of secure supply chains and reliable delivery to customers across the continent, we also embrace the need for innovation and change.”

This certainly applies to services and solutions, but also to how companies create the waves of success that generate opportunities for African economies all the way down the supply chain.

“With Africa as our base, BME demonstrates what the continent has to offer other mining regions of the world,” he concluded. “Africa is responding actively to the revitalised search for minerals critical to the energy transition, and can leverage a more sustainable future from this opportunity.”

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