Rio Tinto

 6,012

Developing Low-Impact Mining Approaches

Rio Tinto seeks new approaches for mineral sands mining to reduce water use, avoid costly infrastructure and minimize environmental impacts.
stage:
Enter
prize:
$800,000
Overview

Challenge Overview

Rio Tinto supplies the metals and minerals that help the world to grow. Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium (RTIT), the group originating this challenge, is continuously looking for new deposits of mineral sands to mine. These sands contain valuable heavy minerals such as ilmenite, zircon and rutile, which are important minerals in the production of many products around the world. These mineral sand deposits can be high in grade but small in size, or of considerable size but low in grade and located in difficult to mine areas, creating social and environmental concerns.

Traditional sand mining methods include significant infrastructure and disruption to the area in order to perform initial mineral concentration on-site, using wet separation methods. In this challenge, we seek your proposed approaches and implementation plans for developing new mining approaches whereby mineral sands are mined and processed using unconventional means that minimize or eliminate the need for water, infrastructure or other disruptions to the area.

This challenge is aimed at addressing three process steps including: (1) excavation, (2) initial separation/concentration, and (3) backfill of materials. While solutions that address all three steps are preferred, we also welcome novel solutions that address a portion of the process, because we want to encourage participation from innovators with specific areas of expertise.

Rio Tinto recently completed an Ideation Challenge that was focused on early-stage ideas; four (4) winners and additional honorable mentions were announced on August 17th. This new two-stage challenge is open to all and focused on identifying conceptual solutions that can be further developed to demonstrate feasibility and may ultimately result in commercialization.  

In the current “Concept Stage” Challenge, participants will provide a non-confidential submission that describes the proposed approach to low-impact mining. Up to four (4) of the most compelling concepts will be selected by Rio Tinto to advance to the follow-on “Feasibility Stage” Challenge. Each accepted Concept Stage winner will receive a portion of (up to) $200,000 USD award pool to support their work in the Feasibility Stage. The individual amounts will be based on the projected scope of work and at the discretion of Rio Tinto; any requested amounts over $50k per participant must be justified by the participant’s project plan included with the Concept Stage submission. Concept Stage awards will be paid in two installments, at the start and completion of feasibility work.

The follow-on Feasibility-Stage Challenge will be open only to the Concept-Stage winners and will be conducted under mutual non-disclosure agreements. This stage is focused on demonstrating initial feasibility for the proposed approach via both written descriptions and results of initial development efforts and testing using Rio Tinto sample materials. At the end of this stage, Rio Tinto will select the challenge winner(s) and award up to two (2) winners with up to $300,000 each to support additional development under a negotiated co-development agreement. Rio Tinto will also provide the winner(s) with technical support and the opportunity to collaborate with Rio Tinto R&D scientists and engineers. Should this solution prove technically and commercially feasible, Rio Tinto may propose a follow-on agreement with the winner(s) for commercialization and scale-up.  

 

Challenge Milestones

Below are the major milestones associated with both the Concept and Feasibility stages of this challenge. Please see the Timeline section for more details.

Concept Stage:  

  • Pre-registration opened Sep. 18, 2020
  • Open for submissions as of Sep. 25, 2020
  • Submissions must be received by Jan. 6, 2021
  • Up to 4 winners selected to proceed to Feasibility Stage Challenge by Feb. 12, 2021
  • Concept-stage winners each receive portion of (up to) $200,000 award pool for feasibility development

Feasibility Stage:  

  • Feasibility Stage Challenge launches on Mar. 15, 2021
  • Submissions must be received by Sep. 20, 2021
  • Analysis of submissions and pitch-backs/demos completed by Nov. 30, 2021
  • Up to two (2) winners selected by Jan. 14, 2022
  • Potential contracts up to $300,000 (each) negotiated with up to two (2) winners in Q1 2022
Guidelines

Challenge Guidelines

BACKGROUND AND OVERVIEW

The typical approach for sand mining is through large on-site ponds and floating dredges where heavy minerals are recovered to a heavy-mineral concentrate (HMC) by wet separation methods within large floating concentration equipment. This requires significant and costly infrastructure, as well as significant rehabilitation of the area mined. Additionally, regions where these mining areas are located often face significant water scarcity challenges, which can significantly limit water availability for mining operations.   

There are situations where the current (wet) separation methods described above for sand mining are impractical. Examples of such conditions include:

  • More developed areas where there may be high-grade mineral concentrations, but insufficient space for traditional infrastructure and where water scarcity is often an issue
  • More remote area where the area is large, but the concentration of minerals is lower in grade, making traditional methods cost-prohibitive


Challenge Goals

Rio Tinto and its stakeholders are interested in new concepts for novel methods of mining mineral sands that provide on-site mining, initial separation/concentration and backfilling of minerals and which:

  • Minimize or eliminate the need for water in mining and/or processing (e.g. eliminate need for ponds)
  • Minimize other disruptions or impacts during and after mining (e.g. physical, environmental, noise)


Rio Tinto’s long-term business objective is to develop and commercialize an innovative and market-changing sand-mining solution that enables Rio Tinto to:

  • Gain access to new sources of valuable minerals from sand mining in areas that were previously not environmentally or economically feasible
  • Explore and develop the potential for new low-impact mining solutions in situations where current methods are impractical
  • Address the worldwide challenge of water scarcity in mining areas


Challenge Scope

The sand mining current process is described in detail here.  For the purpose of defining the scope of this challenge, we have categorized the key elements of the sand mining process as shown and summarized below.

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Within Challenge Scope:

  1. Excavation - Excavate raw material using ‘small footprint’ equipment to minimize disruption of area.
  2. Initial Mineral Concentration – Initial processing on-site for initial mineral separation and concentration, without the need for ponds & floating dredges.
  3. Backfill - Separated waste streams are replaced in-ground, likely supplemented by additional materials.

The process elements described above are all conducted on-site today and expected to be conducted on-site for new solution ideas/concepts.  Your ideas and concepts may address a single process element or any combination of these elements. The initial descriptions as discrete steps should also not limit your thinking, and new solutions may combine or integrate elements in new ways. Initial mining, mineral separation and concentration today are done via ponds and dredges as described in the ‘Current Process’ section. New, novel approaches to on-site mining and processing should strive to reduce the current infrastructure footprint.


Outside of Challenge Scope:

These process elements (outside of dotted lines) are considered out of scope for this challenge but are being shared for context.

Find – Rio Tinto is currently able to identify mineral deposits, including the specific areas for targeted mining within defined larger areas.

Transport – Rio Tinto has existing approaches for cost-effective transport of materials after initial onsite processing to an off-site centralized location for final separation/processing. 

Final Processing – Partially separated materials are further processed, likely using proven wet processing. Rio Tinto will use current technologies and capabilities for this work.


TECHNICAL DESCRIPTION

Mineral sands deposits are frequently formed in existing or previous coastal environments, where the action of ocean currents, waves and wind have formed sand dunes with the typical beige beach sand appearance that would be familiar to many. These sands are comprised mainly (>90%) of quartz (SiO2), but also include the content of heavy minerals (HM). The total heavy minerals (THM) can be many different minerals, including ilmenite, zircon, rutile, monazite, and garnets, to name a few. The quartz tends to be of coarser size with lower specific gravity or density (average particle size usually ranges between 300 to 400microns with 2.7sg) where the THM tends to be finer with higher density (125 to 150microns with a range of 3 to 5sg). The moisture content of above water table In-Situ sands is expected to be between 3-5%. The actions of nature have deposited these sands together; where the concentration of THM is >3% mass, it becomes economically feasible to mine.

The following two scenarios are representative situations where current sand mining approaches are needed. Ideally, your solution will address both scenarios, but we are also interested in your idea if it focuses only on one (based on the limitations of the proposed solution):

We are interested in solutions for mining mineral sand deposits in those situations where the current (wet) separation methods described previously are impractical. Examples of these such conditions include:

  • More developed regions where there may be high-grade mineral concentrations, but there is not space for infrastructure and where water scarcity is often an issue.
  • More remote regions where the mining area may be large, but the concentration of minerals low in grade, making traditional methods cost-prohibitive.


Technology Needs

Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium (RTIT) is seeking new technical concepts or solutions that can enable on-site mining and recovery of as much of the heavy minerals as possible through the removal of the quartz sand tailings while minimizing or eliminating the need for water, infrastructure or other disruptions to the area. 

By taking advantage of the characteristics of heavy minerals compared to quartz tailings, one can use particle size, shape, density, magnetic susceptibility or other methods to separate and concentrate the heavy minerals on site. The concentrate will then be transported off-site for further processing into final products, using proven methods within a fixed plant. 

Potential Solution Paths:

The following potential solution paths are provided as examples of areas of interest, but ideas and solutions beyond those listed are encouraged:

  • Novel means of (dry) mechanical separation, such as via screening, air classifier, gravity & dense medium separator, et al
  • Magnetic separation methods that take advantage of differentiating characteristics of the material components
  • Combinatory approaches that can accomplish THM concentrations by recirculating the material for multiple passes
  • Non-traditional wet-processing solutions that require minimal water and enable ‘inline’ wetting and separation/concentration of THM materials
  • The addition of novel back-fill materials earlier in the process that can catalyze or enhance THM separation/concentration
  • Novel approaches to the design of excavation/backfill equipment that can be transported and operate effectively in limited spaces
  • Solutions that integrate or synergize steps related excavation, separation/concentration or backfill
    Concept stage description
  • Other non-traditional approaches to achieve project goals are welcomed.

Technical Performance:

Rio Tinto is providing the following as aspirational performance targets only; we still encourage solutions that may achieve lower levels of performance, especially if they utilize rapid and/or cost-effective methods. Solutions will be assessed by Rio Tinto primarily in judging the Feasibility-Stage Challenge (less relevant in the Concept-Stage):

  • Enables mining, on-site concentration and backfilling of total heavy minerals (THM) content (1 order of magnitude or greater), prior to being transporting off-site for further processing
  • Can achieve a mass reduction (tails removal) of at least 80%
  • Can achieve 70%+ recovery of the total heavy minerals (THM) onsite, prior to transporting off-site for further processing
  • Can achieve the above through ≥7x mass reduction (tails removal) while producing a concentrate of 35 Tons per Hour to provide satisfactory ROI
  • Capability for solution to scale up for higher-volume throughput (targeting approx. 6-7M tons of sand mined and treated per year)

 

CONCEPT-STAGE CHALLENGE REQUIREMENTS

As the first of two stages in Rio Tinto’s Challenge for ‘Developing Low-Impact Mining Approaches’, the Concept Stage is designed to identify promising new ideas and solutions which would be selected for further development. Your submission for the Concept Stage should be sufficiently advanced such that, if selected, it could be developed and demonstrated for initial technical feasibility during the follow-on Feasibility Stage. Strong submissions for the Concept Stage will provide well-reasoned scientific rationale and any preliminary data supporting the proposed idea. Concept-stage submissions will also include a description of the team’s capabilities to progress the concept and a project plan for follow-on development work in the Feasibility Stage. 

The Concept Stage is open to everyone (see eligibility rules). All submissions will be judged by a group of experts within Rio Tinto, using the evaluation criteria shown below. Up to four (4) of the most compelling concepts will be selected as Concept-Stage winners. Each winner will receive funding to support development and demonstration activities performed during the Feasibility Stage. This funding will be contingent on signing a mutual non-disclosure and separate acknowledgement of Rules, Terms & Conditions related to your participation in the Feasibility-Stage Challenge.

Any individual/team that is not in a position (or does not elect) to support further development and demonstration of their concept in the Feasibility Stage may still consider a submission for the Concept Stage, based on the understanding that promising submissions could potentially result in a negotiated license or other agreement with Rio Tinto for internal development. In this case, the concept must be sufficiently advanced such that Rio Tinto or others could undertake further development for potential commercialization if an agreement is reached. By participating in the Concept-Stage Challenge you are not forfeiting any of your rights to your intellectual property. Any licensing negotiations and potential agreement would be handled separately and outside of the scope of this Challenge and would not be eligible for a Concept-Stage award.

 

JUDGING CRITERIA – CONCEPT-STAGE CHALLENGE

Criteria

Description

Weight

Innovativeness

  • Novelty/uniqueness of the proposed approach (e.g. used in non-mining applications, combining known methods together in a unique manner, new to the world, etc.)
  • Potential for RTIT to achieve unique access to existing or new intellectual property that could enable sustainable competitive advantage.

20

Impact

  • Potential for solution to address goals of minimal or no use of water (i.e. dry mining and/or dry processing).
  • Potential for avoiding disruption to the local area, through small footprint, ability to work in limited spaces, etc.
  • Completeness of the solution in addressing excavation, initial processing and/or backfill process steps.

30

Technical Feasibility

  • Strength of technical rationale and proof points supporting the solution concept.
  • Identified path for developing into technically viable solution at scale (ideally within ~3 years).
  • Soundness of project plan and strength of team’s capabilities for development of feasible demonstration in next phase.

25

Financial Viability

  • Initial estimate of cost per ton for each element of process addressed (excavation, initial concentration, backfill) – Cost worksheet available here.
  • Strength of rationale supporting financial estimates.
  • Potential for Rio Tinto to leverage its investment in this solution broadly across its business and the market.

25

 

FEASIBILITY-STAGE CHALLENGE REQUIREMENTS

Only Concept-Stage winners can participate in the Feasibility-Stage Challenge. Accepted participants will receive an initial tranche of development funds and a sample of mineral sands after the start of this stage. The Feasibility-Stage participants will undertake analytical and prototyping development work over a period of ~4 months in order to demonstrate initial feasibility of their concept. At the end of the feasibility development period, participants will submit a report that addresses the criteria listed below. Additionally, they will send back mineral sands samples that have been separated via their proposed solution (if applicable) for Rio Tinto to analyze, as well as any unused material. Depending upon the concept, participants may propose other approaches for Rio Tinto to objectively evaluate the technical performance of their solution.

Feasibility-Stage submissions will be judged by a group of experts within Rio Tinto, using the evaluation criteria shown below. Rio Tinto analysis of the processed material (if applicable to the concept) will also be a factor in the evaluation process. Results of these analyses will be shared with each participant respectively. Pending agreement to Rio Tinto requirements, the winner(s) may be awarded up to $300,000 of development funding to further develop the winning technology and will also receive support from Rio Tinto technical and production experts. 

 

JUDGING CRITERIA – FEASIBILITY-STAGE CHALLENGE

Criteria

Description

Weight

Innovativeness

  • Novelty/uniqueness of the proposed approach (e.g. used in non-mining applications, combining known methods together in a unique manner, completely new to the world, etc.)
  • Potential for RTIT to achieve unique access to existing or new intellectual property that could enable sustainable competitive advantage.

15

Impact

  • Potential for solution to address goals of minimal or no use of water (i.e. Dry mining and/or dry processing).
  • Potential for avoiding disruption to the local area, through small footprint, ability to work in limited spaces, etc.
  • Completeness of the solution in addressing excavation, initial processing and/or backfill process steps.

25

Technical Feasibility

  • Feasibility and effectiveness of the solution demonstrated in development work and Rio Tinto analysis of results.
  • Clear path for commercialization at scale (within ~3 years).
  • Soundness of project plan for further development and commercialization.
  • Strength and capabilities of team/organization for co-development and commercialization.

30

Financial Viability

  • Updated estimate of cost per ton (at launch and at scale) for each element of process addressed (excavation, initial concentration, backfill) – Cost worksheet will be provided.
  • Estimated Capex for initial solution and at scale (worksheet).
  • Strength of rationale supporting financial estimates.
  • Potential for Rio Tinto to leverage its investment in this solution broadly across its business and the market.

30

 

 

CHALLENGE TIMELINE

Concept Stage:

  • Pre-registration opened Sep. 18, 2020
  • Open for submissions as of Sep. 25, 2020 (12pm ET)
  • Submissions must be received by Jan. 6th 2021 (8pm ET)
  • Judges select Concept-stage winners by Feb. 12, 2021 (5pm ET)
  • Concept-stage winners announced by Feb. 15, 2021 (5pm ET)


Feasibility Stage:

  • Feasibility Stage Challenge launches on Mar. 15, 2021 (12pm ET)
  • Submissions must be received by Sep. 20, 2021 (8pm ET)
  • Analysis of submissions and presentations complete by Nov. 30, 2021 (5pm ET)
  • Feasibility-stage winner(s) selected by Jan. 14, 2022 (5pm ET)

 

RULES

Individual competitors and teams may originate from any country, as long as United States federal sanctions do not prohibit participation (see: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Pages/Programs.aspx).

Please see the provided Terms & Conditions for the complete rules.

 

CONCEPT STAGE SUBMISSION FORM

Reminder: Please do not share any proprietary or confidential information in your Concept Submission. No Concept Submission or other information or material submitted by Innovator will be treated as confidential by the Sponsor, even if marked “confidential”. Character counts include spaces.

General Description

  • What elements of the Challenge are you addressing? (check any or all)
    • Excavation
    • Dry separation
    • Backfill
  • Please provide an overview of your proposed approach for new and novel methods of mining mineral sands. Discuss any supporting scientific rationale and whether or not they’ve been applied to this or similar situations previously. If there is supporting data, please provide it.  (6,000 characters maximum)
    • Upload any supporting materials in a zip file.


Innovation

  • Please discuss the novelty and uniqueness of your proposed solution. (For example, is this approach used in other non-mining applications? Are you combining known methods coupled together in a unique manner? Is it completely new to the world?) (2,000 characters maximum)
  • Is there existing intellectual property or other know-how that is being applied in this solution? (1,000 characters maximum)
  • If your proposed approach proves to be successful, do you believe it will enable new patentable technology?  Why? (2,000 characters maximum)

 

Impact

  • Discuss the potential impact of your solution for the specific problems identified within this Challenge. How can it potentially address the goals of (1) Minimizing water use (e.g. dry mining and/or dry processing) and/or (2) Avoiding disruption to the local area (e.g. small footprint, works in limited spaces, etc.)?  (4,000 characters maximum)
  • Does the scope of your solution address all 3 process steps (excavation, separation and backfill) or a subset? If focused on specific steps only, please provide any insights regarding the ability of your solution to integrate with other steps (to best of your knowledge). (3,000 characters maximum)


Technical Feasibility

  • What is the current stage of development and feasibility for this concept or technology? Can you describe a path to commercialization of this solution at scale (within ~3 years)? Please include discussion of the major technical hurdles and any ideas  to overcome them.      (4,000 characters maximum)
  • If selected, do you intend to participate in developing the concept in the Feasibility Stage? (If no, skip remaining questions in this section) If yes, please describe your team or organization, including key team members and backgrounds, as well as organizational capabilities as appropriate. What additional external expertise or support (if any) will you need to accomplish your development plan?   (6,000 characters maximum)
  • In the Feasibility Stage, you will have approximately 4 months to further develop your concept and provide an initial demonstration of technical feasibility, which may (but is not required to) include utilizing Rio Tinto supplied samples of mineral sands. Please share your project plan for this effort, including the key tasks, timeline, resources and how the award funding would be spent to support the efforts. (6,000 character maximum, including spaces)
  • Can you accomplish the project plan above (including demonstration of technical feasibility) within a budget of $50,000 USD? If not, what total funding do you believe is needed? (Provide rationale) (2,000 character maximum)


Financial Viability

  • Upload your completed cost worksheet, using the template provided (Be sure to include cost estimates for each aspect of the process you are addressing – excavation, initial separation/concentration, backfill) Access here.
  • Using your proposed approach, what do you project will be the direct operating cost per ton for each element of the process you will address as calculated in your cost worksheet? (1,000 character maximum)
  • Please discuss your rationale for this projected cost. (2,500 character maximum)

 

Timeline
Updates 2

Challenge Updates

Direct Operating Cost Worksheet Now Available!

Oct. 1, 2020, 5:21 p.m. PDT by Kyla Jeffrey

We have released the worksheet that you should use to develop an initial cost estimate for your solution to the Developing Low Impact Mining Approaches Challenge. Access here.

We recognize that at this stage, an accurate cost estimate will not be possible. At the same time, our overall objective is to identify cost-effective ideas/solutions, so the cost feasibility of the approach is central to the Challenge. Our initial focus for evaluating costs will be related to operating costs (Opex). A completed cost estimate worksheet will be important for helping us evaluate your Challenge submission. While a completed worksheet is a minimum requirement of your entry, you may expand upon the template if desired. 

If you have any questions about this worksheet, please post them in the challenge forum.


The Developing Low Impact Mining Approaches Challenge is Open for Submissions!

Sept. 25, 2020, 1:35 p.m. PDT by Kyla Jeffrey

Welcome to the Developing Low Impact Mining Approaches Challenge!

Today, we are excited to announce that the challenge is officially open for submissions! Starting today, you have access to the full Challenge Guidelines and can begin drafting your submission!

To get started, head back to the challenge page and click SOLVE THIS CHALLENGE. Once you accept the legal agreement, you will officially be signed up as a competitor!

Remember, if you're feeling stuck, the forum is a great resource to collaborate with others and get answers to your specific questions.

Good luck!


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