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The University of Queensland has installed a BHP-backed experimental chamber to deliver more efficient underground blasting for mining applications.

The enclosed chamber uses hydrostatic pressure to simulate underground rock blasting.

A team of researchers led by University of Queensland’s associate professor Italo Onederra and Christopher Leonardi will be the only research group in the world with the capabilities to test this technology.

The experiments hope to provide a deeper understanding of how rock fractures when it is blasted underground.

“We can place a rock in the enclosed chamber, apply hydrostatic pressure, then set off a blast to simulate a deep underground rock blasting scenario,” Onederra said.

“It allows us to see how rocks react under these very specific conditions, filling knowledge gaps in the fundamental science of rock fragmentation, which will ultimately improve outcomes on mine sites and beyond.”

The research has been funded by BHP, who conducted an international search to find the best team to carry out the research.

“We are able to combine this new capability with our rock characterisation process that uses specialised digital imaging techniques and advanced numerical algorithms for blasting and fluid flow modelling, positioning us perfectly to tackle some of the big challenges facing the mining sector as it transitions to net-zero emissions,” Onederra said.

SRI International donated the experimental chamber to the University of Queensland team.

According to Onederra, the research will help eliminate waste rock and tailings dams.

“There are many challenges ahead as mining will take place in deeper and more complex geotechnical environments, making it more difficult, dangerous and expensive to extract the minerals and materials we all rely on every day,” Onederra siad.

“Our capabilities give us the freedom to think outside the box and study a number of areas involving the use of explosives to extract minerals in a more energy efficient and sustainable way.

“We are probably the only group in the world embarking on such different research, including unconventional excavation and crushing systems using energetic materials.”