You know you have one of the world’s most sophisticated underground copper mines when people from as far afield as Germany and Switzerland come to visit it and walk away impressed.
“Foreign visitors can’t believe that an African country has this level of technology,” says Kevin Erasmus, a manager on the project. “We’ve even had representatives from the Association of Mine Resident Engineers of South Africa and the Mine Managers of South Africa here, and they say they’ve never seen stuff like this in their lives. It’s like – wow!”
Mufulira Deeps is a brand-new shaft estimated at US$277 million that Mopani Copper Mines is constructing in the town of Mufulira, on the Copperbelt. It will add 25 years to the life of the mine. Work started in 2013, and it has already reached a depth of 1.5km.
The shaft is being sunk using a more efficient technology known as raise-boring: instead of drilling vertically downwards from the surface, the drilling is done upwards from underground.
By the time the shaft reaches its design depth of 2 km, Mufulira Deeps will be the world’s second deepest, single-shaft underground copper mine, a shade behind the 2.1km-deep Resolution Copper Mine in the state of Arizona, USA. At such depths, the ambient temperature is 48 °C – hot enough to cause heatstroke and death within hours.
A massive Bulk Air Cooling system has been installed that sends refrigerated air down into the shaft, and brings the ambient air temperature below to between 29 and 31 °C. “It’s more manageable, but it’s still basically summer down there,” says Erasmus.
Mufulira Deeps’ technology is ground-breaking. The mine will be able to hoist 10 000 tonnes of copper ore to the surface every day, in a lift travelling at 18 metres per second. That’s six times faster than an average commercial office lift, and nearly twice as fast as the ultra-rapid passenger lift in the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, in Dubai.
When the headgear – the giant steel and concrete structure that towers atop the shaft – is complete, it will rise nearly 80 metres into the air. It will be Zambia’s tallest headgear, and the highest free-standing structure in Mufulira and the surrounding area.
“It’s all about productivity,” says Erasmus. “Mufulira Deeps will do everything faster, more efficiently, more safely and with less handling.”
By Mining for Zambia.