COSMO Stochastic Mine Planning Laboratory focuses on global asset optimization under uncertainty


On June 20, 45 industry professionals and academics from across the globe gathered at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, to hear about the latest findings of the COSMO Stochastic Laboratory researchers at COSMO’s biannual Technical Day.

The laboratory, created in 2006 by Roussos Dimitrakopoulos, professor at McGill University and Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Mineral Resource Development and Optimization under Uncertainty, with the support of six mining industry partners (AngloGold Ashanti, Barrick Gold, BHP Billiton, De Beers, Newmont Mining, Vale), aims to optimize mineral resource development under uncertain conditions by applying mathematical models and risk analysis to mine planning, design and production scheduling. This year, the focus was on global asset optimization of open-pit mining complexes.

“Our work aims to jointly optimize multiple mines, material types, multiple ore and waste processing streams for a diverse group of commodities and mining complexes,” explained Dimitrakopoulos. “It takes into account stockpiles, blending, transportation and multiple products. It is a paradigm shift from the traditional ‘local’ optimization of a single mine or of a single processing plant. We strive to find methods that allow us to simulate scenarios of different grades and material types in each mine, which then enable us to manage uncertainty in the grades and in the material types we feed through the processing streams (processing plants, transport) of a mining complex.”

COSMO’s research appears to be in the vanguard of mine planning. Industry partner representatives were engaged by the presentations and keen to explore how the new technologies could be adapted to their projects.

“For a long time we have been optimizing only the mine plan, now Roussos’s team is optimizing the mine plan, the processing plan and the supply chain plan,” explained Leo Fusciardi, head of technical for De Beers Canada Inc. “That is something some leading-edge mining companies are now looking at to try to extract maximum value from their ore bodies.”

According to Fusciardi, increased risk and rising capital costs require companies to apply leading-edge thinking in the area of mine optimization. “It is critical business for De Beers,” he said. De Beers has already benefited from some of COSMO’s past research. “We have done several projects with Roussos and his team to improve our method of estimating grades by looking at the mathematics behind micro-diamond estimating,” explained Fusciardi. De Beers uses micro diamonds from smaller, more cost-effective samples to predict the quantity of larger and more valuable diamonds in a deposit. COSMO students have been engaged to improve the mathematical and statistical analysis that supports this industry leading technique.

De Beers is not the only company invested in COSMO’s work. AngloGold Ashanti has been supporting COSMO since its inception and has integrated technologies developed by Roussos and his team’s research at sites all over the globe. “We now use quantified models of geological uncertainty to quantify risk in all our long-term projects,” said Vaughan Chamberlain, senior vice-president of geology and metallurgy, business and technical development at the company. The company is also involved in COSMO’s 2013 initiative to support education in developing countries,  including providing funding  for the COSMO Consortium MSc Scholarship in Geostatistics and Mine Planning Optimisation with Uncertainty at University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Newmont, another industry partner, considers COSMO an indispensible asset to the industry. Besides having applied concepts and technologies from the lab on site, Newmont has benefited from hiring Roussos’s graduate students. “We also regularly train our staff through COSMO’s professional development programs, which we support in multiple ways,” said Marcelo Godoy, group executive, resource modeling, technical services, Newmont. “We consider COSMO to be unique in its ability to understand and instigate paradigm shifts in diverse aspects of mine valuation and production forecasting.”

According to Dimitrakopoulos, the laboratory’s six industry partners represent 75 per cent of mining activity on the planet. This year the findings will also be shared via webinars with all six partners. The papers and presentations will be published in the public domain in June 2014.