How Is Coal Mined?
24 June 2021
How Is Coal Mined?
We know coal-mining is one of Australia’s most important industries, supporting more than 50,000 direct jobs and $69.5 billion worth of exports in 2019.
But how is coal mined on a day-to-day basis? There is a lot of talk about how we do coal-mining but not all of it is accurate.
In Australia, our coal industry is world-renowned for its efficiency, high-technology operations, and safety. The resources produced are high-energy and low-ash, making them more energy efficient and lower-emissions producing.
At Bravus, we have a strong focus on transparency, mining technology, health and safety and environmental responsibility. Our operations aim for sustainability.
The Carmichael Mine started construction in June 2019, following approvals for environment, heritage and safety, among others. It will be an open-cut mine, which means the coal is mined by progressively blasting and excavating rock, then removing it by trucks. Progressive land rehabilitation occurs at the same time.
We are excited the Carmichael Project is well underway. Workers are expected to produce the first coal at the end of 2021. This is how coal is mined.
Where Is Coal Produced?
Coal is a sedimentary rock that is found in seams underground. It was formed over millions of years as the layers above it added heat and pressure. It is largely carbon, along with some other elements. Coal is not a mineral.
In Australia, coal has been exported since 1799. We have the fourth-largest reserves of coal in the world.
Mining coal brings significant economic and social value to Australia, especially in the local communities around the mines.
These areas include Queensland, including the Bowen Basin, Callide Basin and Styx Basin; southeast Queensland’s Maryborough Basin and Tarong Basin; New South Wales’ Gunnedah Basin, Glouchcester Basin and Sydney Basin. Coal is also mined in Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia.
Bravus’ Carmichael Project will also develop central Queensland’s Galilee Basin.
Coal is generally produced in open-cut mines in Australia because the coal seams are close to the surface. This makes it more economical to mine, and given the high-quality of the resource, Australia’s black and brown coal are strong commodities on the international market.
How Is Coal Mined and Processed?
Coal is mined using a safe and proven method.
From exploration to geological modelling and mine design, there are a range of processes and professionals who determine optimal and responsible mining before it even begins.
Exploration geophysicists and geologists conduct drills and surveys to determine the location and quality of the resource. Then they are modelled and mapped by engineers to create a cost-effective and efficient mine, along with its associated infrastructure for transport and operations. This includes locating the mine in the most efficient location to extract the best-possible reserves.
Bravus’ Carmichael Mine is in the Galilee Basin in central Queensland, about 160 kilometres northwest of Clermont, a major hub for the mining industry. The mine itself will be about 260 hectares in size, which is less than 500 football fields. And not all that area will be mined at the same time.
We are currently constructing the mine industrial area with water storage dams, temporary access roads and fences. Drains, culverts, dams and roads are also being built. Once that is done, it is time for the coal production. So how is coal mined and processed?
At Carmichael Mine, the coal will be extracted by excavating the rock on the top of the coal in a box-cut technique. We remove the top soil and keep it to restore the land once the mine life has ended. This is best-practice for rehabilitation.
The surface rock is blasted to break it into extractable parts, which are removed by trucks.
Coal in the seam is then excavated. Surveyors are present to ensure the coal is mined optimally. The coal is blasted into smaller layers, which are dug up and transported by trucks to a processing plant.
Throughout the coal mining process, we minimise the impacts on the environment including the air and water quality, noise and heritage sites.
How Is Coal Refined and Processed?
Processing coal occurs onsite at specialised preparation plants. It reduces impurities – improving the emissions profile – and increases the efficiency of coal transport.
Following its extraction from the seam, the coal is transported to the plants to be processed. Generally, this transport occurs using either trucks or large conveyor belts.
At a coal handling and processing plant, the rock is crushed and washed to premium quality.
Any contaminants are removed through this process. These go into a tailings cell for safe and secure storage of the waste products from the rock. Tailings storage is a key component of environmental approvals, and Australia’s tailings storage facilities framework is among the most strictly regulated globally.
Australia’s Department of Industry tailings management handbook says the basic requirement of a tailings storage facility is “to provide safe, stable, non-polluting and economical storage of tailings, presenting negligible public health and safety risks, and acceptably low social and environmental impacts during its operation and after mine closure”.
Once the coal has been washed and processed, it is stored for later transport onto trains.
How Is Coal Mined in Australia?
Coal is mined in Australia using leading mining techniques and technologies.
According to Geoscience Australia, almost 80 per cent of Australian coal is extracted from open-cut mines, where up to 90 per cent of the rock can be recovered from the seam. Worldwide, about 40 per cent of coal-mining uses open-cut techniques. This ensures how coal is mined in Australia is a more efficient, safer and more responsible than in many other countries.
Mining is a highly skilled industry in Australia that provides well-paid careers. Ongoing improvements in occupational health and safety, and environmental performance have made Australia a reliable and high-quality producer and exporter of coal. Given the high-energy and low-ash quality and abundance of Australia’s coal reserves – the fourth-biggest volumes in the world – coal is sought after on the international market.
Reserves are mapped by geologists in a comprehensive pre-mining exploration phase. This determines the coal’s volume and location. The Galilee Basin is a thermal coal basin that has been deemed a State Development Area by the Queensland Government for its potential benefit.
At the Carmichael Mine, Bravus is building an open-cut mine to produce 10 million tonnes a year of coal. It will use the “truck and shovel” technique to mine the reserve.
Coal is mined by extracting the rock from one end of the deposit, then moving progressively across the seam. Coal is extracted along a series of terraces down the pit.
There are also heavy vehicle roads throughout the mining infrastructure area, allowing our trucks to haul the rock and coal across the mine. The coal is then loaded onto rail for transport to Port of Abbot Point, from where it will be exported from the North Queensland Export Terminal.
Some companies are creating fully automated mines that will no longer require people to operate them onsite. Bravus is choosing not to implement remote operations, instead opting to create jobs for “people, not robots”.
What Is Coal Used for In Australia?
Coal is one of the most utilised resources globally for energy and steel production. Thermal coal is one of the most cost-efficient and reliable ways to produce power, enabling millions of people improve their lives and boost them out of poverty.
In Australia, coal is used for about 75 per cent of our energy production according to Australian Energy Resource Assessment. It is a reliable and affordable source for baseload power generation that has underpinned the nation’s economic development and electricity security. It is also one of our biggest exports and economic contributors.
Australia is the world’s 20th largest consumer of energy, despite our small population. We rank 15th in terms of per capita energy use. Compared to those in India, for example, Australians use ten times the amount of electricity each day.
According to the Australian Energy Resource Assessment, which was written by Geoscience Australia and the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE), coal and fossil fuels will continue to play a critical role in Australia’s energy mix for years to come, despite the rise of renewable energies. “While fossil fuels (coal, oil and increasingly gas) will continue to dominate the energy mix, renewable energy sources, notably wind, are expected to become increasingly more significant,” it says.
So mining coal will continue to play an important role in Australia. The World Coal Association cites coal use will remain the biggest energy generation source by 2040, making up about 22 per cent of supply.
Other uses for coal around the world include steel-making (metallurgical coal) to produce vehicles, foundations for buildings, appliances and infrastructure.
Coal is also used to produce light aromatic hydrocarbons, an industrial chemical, as well as filters for air purifiers and dialysis machines. Carbon fibre, ultimately made from coal, is also a strong and effective ingredient in construction and other goods, such as low-weight sporting equipment.
How Do We Mine Coal Sustainably?
Coal-mining in Australia is conducted to the highest regulatory and environmental standards. There are strict controls in place that guide the conduct of our responsible mining operations, from the time when the mining area is explored and mapped, to the end of the mining and transport. From the very start of any project, land rehabilitation and environmental sustainability are built into our processes.
At Bravus, our aim is to extract the resources we need to benefit society overall while also being a responsible corporate citizen. Our sustainable mining approach includes our commitment to improve social, economic and environmental outcomes for the communities where we operate.
In terms of how coal is mined coal sustainably, this means we pre-plan our projects, monitor air and water quality throughout the project, and minimise the impacts on the site and surrounds.
At Carmichael Mine we will have 120 water-monitoring bores to check for any impacts on the groundwater. Before we started operations, four baseline water surveys were undertaken. Other potential environmental impacts are being assessed and checked. Three air-monitoring stations will ensure continuous observations of the air quality locally. For the endangered black-throated finch, we’re making sure we know its habitats and can mitigate any impact on the birds based on 15 rigorous surveys.
And our mine site is surrounded by conservation area – more than 126 times the area of the mine itself. A five-kilometre buffer lies between any mining activity and the conservation areas.
Bravus Mining’s operations will create jobs and opportunities for central Queensland communities, while obtaining resources that will help to boost those living around the world. Through our evidence-backed and thoughtful approach to coal mining, the impacts are minimised and mitigated. During the mine life, the land will be rehabilitated. Our sustainable and responsible mining means we will create benefits for our local communities and beyond.