mDetect uses space tech to build early warning system for mining

mDetect

Image credit: Swinburne.

A spin-out Australian start-up from Swinburne University of Technology, mDetect, is using space particles to detect weaknesses in dams that secure highly toxic mining waste by-products, making them safer for the environment. 

Muon (or space particle) technology will be used to build the hazardous waste early warning system and transform how mining companies monitor the stability of tailings dams. mDetect has received $1.5 million from the federal government’s Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC) Commercialisation Fund to commercialise the system. 

Tailings dams are used by mining companies to manage potentially dangerous by-products. An estimated three tailings dams fail worldwide every two years, with potentially damaging environmental outcomes. Until now, there have been no detectable early warning signs from deep within the walls to prevent failure. 

Research and education into space technologies and their terrestrial applications have great potential for positive economic and social impact. 

“Swinburne is focused on ensuring that the vital research we do has significant positive impact,” Swinburne University of Technology’s vice-chancellor Professor Pascale Quester said. 

“The important work of mDetect, led by Swinburne’s Professor Alan Duffy, is emblematic of Swinburne’s cutting-edge research and our ability to market innovative ideas. This is paving the way for successful research commercialisation that provides real solutions for industries. 

“It is projects like this that best exemplify our vision of bringing people and technology together to build a better world. We thank the AMGC for their support and commitment to this important initiative.” 

This aligns with the proactive nature of OZ Minerals, a key industry partner who will deploy the device at their tailings dam at the Carrapateena Province. 

“OZ Minerals recognises our responsibility to meaningfully contribute to regional economic and social wellbeing as stronger communities create value for all stakeholders,” OZ Minerals Carrapateena Province general manager Myles Johnston said. 

“By ethically and responsibly exploring for and mining copper, we contribute to a low carbon future and economic wellbeing, which helps us achieve our purpose and contribute to a better future. We congratulate mDetect on being awarded the AMGC grant, and the team at Carrapateena is excited to be collaborating with mDetect on the development of a fully supported, flexible 3D muon monitoring system.” 

The mDetect team includes Professor Alan Duffy, Dr Shanti Krishnan and Craig Webster, Dr Eryadi Masli and Dr Jerome Donovan. 

“Muons are heavier versions of electrons, that are made when cosmic rays slam into atoms in Earth’s atmosphere,” Duffy said. 

“We have patented new detectors that, combined with powerful AI techniques, take an X-ray style scan through solid rock revealing different density structures.” 

The patented muon technology can provide intelligence on the internal structures and substances of buildings, infrastructure and subterranean and aquatic features. This provides a range of commercial opportunities for the construction and mining industries. 

Muon technology can look through rock to create underground images and detect abnormalities which will provide the early warning signs needed to prevent potential structural failures. 

“mDetect’s product offers a world-leading solution that has the potential to detect, prevent and mitigate failure of tailings dams across the world,” AMGC managing director Dr Jens Goennemann said. 

“Any investment in the prevention of tailings dam failures not only ensures mining operators can operate safely, but also reduces the chance of untold ecological, social and financial impacts from such adverse events.” 

mDetect will work with local manufacturing company Elgee Industries and Swinburne’s Factory of the Future to produce the muon devices at scale. Connecting these devices and turning detections into underground images will be undertaken by Swinburne’s Astronomy Data and Computing Services (ADACS) software development team. 

“Australia has the capacity to undertake advanced manufacturing onshore, and with the support from AMGC, this project will open up opportunities to propel Australia as a location that can offer advanced solutions to global issues,” Elgee Industries managing director Andrew Mitchell said.