QUT researchers will tackle Queensland challenges in managing waste and improving mine site rehabilitation outcomes after securing $1,137,297 in Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowships (AQIRF) and industry partner funding.
Across two projects, researchers will focus on developing Australia’s first Artificial Intelligence (AI)-enabled mine site rehabilitation system and associated software, and new advanced materials from mining waste for use in plastics recycling, water purification, and agriculture.
- Dr Kien Nguyen received a $360,000 AQIRF grant and $417,297 in industry funding to develop Australia’s first Artificial Intelligence (AI)-enabled software platform for mine site rehabilitation.
- Dr John Outram received a $240,000 AQIRF grant and $120,000 in industry funding to develop new value-added materials from mining waste for use in plastics recycling, water purification, and agriculture.
Dr Kien Nguyen from the QUT School of Electrical Engineering and Robotics will develop Australia’s first AI-enabled software platform for mine site rehabilitation in partnership with ecological engineering company, Verterra, and will work closely with the Office of the Queensland Mine Rehabilitation Commissioner.
Dr Nguyen said there was 220,000 hectares of disturbed mine lands across Queensland with an estimated rehabilitating cost of $7.3 billion.
“Based on achieving even just a 2 per cent reduction in current rehabilitation costs, this research could potentially deliver a $146 million benefit to Queensland, with additional benefits from improved rehabilitation outcomes,” Dr Nguyen said.
“Standard practice in mine site rehabilitation is heavily dependent on human expert knowledge and needs to take into account multiple interacting factors that lead to different conditions and rehabilitation performance outcomes across a site.
“This can create inefficiencies and bottlenecks when dealing with increasingly massive amounts of data from emerging environmental sensing technologies.”
Dr Nguyen will lead an interdisciplinary team of experts in AI and machine learning, ecological and environmental management to develop advanced computer vision and machine learning techniques for application by research partners.
“Our proposed AI-enabled software platform will facilitate faster and more accurate site-specific assessment, and rehabilitation strategies that are theory-proven, site-tailored and progressively adaptive compared to conventional manual practices,” Dr Nguyen said.
“The outcomes will contribute to minimising the impact of mining’s footprint on our state’s economy, society, and environment by safely integrating mines back into the landscape.
“The research is applicable to all mine sites that need rehabilitation no matter the location, so there is also an opportunity to export our technology and expertise internationally.”
Dr John Outram from the QUT School of Mechanical, Medical and Process Engineering will focus on transforming mineral mining waste into valuable products for industrial uses.
In partnership with the Environmental Development Group (EDG), Synbio, and a Queensland vertical farming company, he will develop high value-added materials for use in managing waste and pollution and adopting robust farming techniques.
“The waste material is considered low-value, so we are looking to develop ‘recipes’ that convert it to improved materials as part of the formation process, to produce customisable end-products suitable for use in industrial reactors, vessels, and columns,” Dr Outram said.
“Expected products include catalysts that transform waste plastics into useful products, materials that recover ammonia-based nutrients from wastewater, and additives that reduce fertiliser consumption in agriculture.”
The project will use the waste stream from a Queensland exploration site to determine the value proposition of new advanced materials as saleable commodities.
Dr Outram said he will work with EDG to develop and scale new materials production, and with partners to assess the performance of produced materials in vertical farming and waste plastic recycling applications.
The fellowships support researchers partnering with industry to complete original research that will have a positive impact on Queensland. Both three-year projects will commence in 2022 and are expected to create regional and rural jobs.