Mongolia has seen increased efforts by domestic companies to upgrade mining equipment and technology used in processing as well as in mine management, making great contributions to Mongolia’s economy.
“Mongolia’s mining will further advance mineral processing in years to come, necessitating the country to prepare by advancing relevant technologies that also have positive and social impacts” said Zolgarjal Jargalsaikhan, Executive Director of Mongolian Coal Association, at a virtual discussion to present New Tech, New Deal Mongolia Report.
Mongolia’s Council for Sustainable Development and Social Responsibility (CSS) was selected to conduct a study for the GIZfunded New Tech, New Deal Project to explore impacts of new technologies and identify opportunities to advance sustainable development in Mongolia’s mining sector through technologies.
The CSS team has made a series of consultations for the study and interviewed nearly 50 key stakeholders, representing national and local government bodies (in Umnugobi and Dornod aimags), mining companies and suppliers, technology and community engagement experts, professional industry and labor groups, local communities, civil society organizations and research and academic institutions, between October and December of 2020.
The CSS team looked into technological development of mining companies operating in Mongolia, grouped into five categories depending on their size and ownership type, including state-owned mining enterprises (for example, Erdenet copper molybdenum mine and Baganuur coal mine), large companies with foreign investment (Oyu Tolgoi, Badrakh Energy, etc), large (Mongolyn Alt and Energy Resources), medium (Bayan Airag hard rock gold mining and Tsakhiurt Ovoo iron ore plant) and small private mining companies. The discussion on New Tech, New Deal Mongolia Report was held on December 17, with government and non-government representatives, mining companies and suppliers in attendance.
Enkhjargal Enkhbat from CSS introduced current trends in new technology penetration into Mongolian mining sector. As introduced by her, modern information and communication technologies, such as satellite imaging used in geological exploration and mine planning, Global Positioning System (GPS) technologies, and use of drones are in place, especially at mining companies with foreign investment.
Mr. Zoljargal, who served as an advisor to the CSS team, noted that despite the government’s policy to develop processing technology, the share of processing in mining exports is very low. “Mines have established processing plants in order to add value to products and increase productivity. For example, the number coal concentrates using wet or dry techniques has rapidly grown, reaching over 30 within several years and is anticipated to grow.”
He continued that large-scale mining projects have introduced new technologies with high cost and high productivity over the past decade. “A significant increase in coal production and exports playing important roles in this area. Oyu Tolgoi LLC, the largest copper and gold mining company in Mongolia, introduced the country to underground mining and processing techniques as well.”
“During the last decade open pit mining has expanded quickly, posing new challenges to manage large-scale mining operations through enhancing automation technologies, expanded conveyer systems for transportation within the mine site and reinforcement of mining walls.”
Kristi Disney Bruckner, Executive Director at Sustainable Development Strategies Group, has been a consulting member of the study team. During the report’s discussion, she described that Mongolia’s large mining companies equipped with advanced technology, infrastructure development and high worker skills contribute to increase mining sector productivity in the country and improve environmental management.
For example, Oyu Tolgoi’s total operational cost was reduced by 5.2 percent in 2019 against the previous year through reducing cost of maintenance at its processing plant and completion of some large infrastructure projects. Thanks to its Teetered Bed Separator (TBS) technology, an “easy production” reporting software, and processing technology, Energy Resources LLC coal mining company has managed to increase its productivity by 6% and fine coal output by 15%, while minimizing environmental negative impacts.
The study further shows that medium and small companies and state owned mines face a shortage of skilled workers to operate modern machinery and implement advanced technologies, and many of them lacks financial capability to attract skilled specialists. For that reason, the report recommends to develop human resources in line with technological evolution and provide necessary knowledge and information to mine workers.
But thanks to new technologies, more opportunities have been opened for workforce education and skills development, such as regular trainings on heavy machinery operation, primary geological training, and occupational health and safety.
Also, the adoption of upgraded technologies has been helping to prevent industrial accidents with fewer occupational health and safety related accidents and injuries at large companies, the study found. On this side, Oyu Tolgoi’s level of accidents has been cut in half over 2015 to 2019.