Cave mining is of interest to the mining community as it offers a chance to extract large, deep orebodies with low operating costs and high production rates. It allows for extracting large low-grade orebodies, which may not have previously been considered for mining. Cave mining is done either top down (ie sublevel caving) or bottom up (ie block/panel caving). Both approaches rely on gravity, stresses and weakness of the rock to fracture and achieve a controlled collapse.
Block caving starts at the base of the orebody. It progresses upward and across through continuous collapse of the roof. To achieve this, a critical hydraulic radius must be exceeded. This is accomplished by blasting drawbells, through which the caved ore passes to the production level. An entire level above the drawbells (undercut level) is excavated to help initiate the cave. The undercut level ensures the connection between drawbells and achievement of the required hydraulic radius.
Conventionally, drawbells are generated by drilling and blasting several times from the production level as well as the undercut level. Mucking between each shot is required to generate enough void space for the rock to swell. The need for several blasts necessitates some downtime between each blast. Also, the cost of developing and maintaining the undercut level can constitute up to 35 per cent of the cost of mining the panel.
A new blasting technique was developed to create the drawbells in a single blast from the production level. The technique ensures the connection of the drawbell to the neighbouring ones, thus, the critical hydraulic radius is reached and propagation of the cave achieved without the need for the undercut level. The technique has the potential to reduce the capital cost of a block caving operation, increase its feasibility and reduce time to reach the ore and consequently the payback period. This paper presents the modelling of a traditional drawbell excavation process, the philosophy of the developed technique, the modelling of that new design and its implementation.
Tawadrous, A and Preece, D S, 2015. A novel blasting technique to create drawbells and eliminate the undercut level in block cave mining, in Proceedings 11th International Symposium on Rock Fragmentation by Blasting, pp 617–624 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).