When the Beaconsfield miners were trapped underground by a rockburst in 2006, Yves Potvin and his team were already working on a safety system that would help protect workers from just that phenomenon.
Winthrop Professor Potvin is the Director of the UWA -based Australian Centre for Geomechanics, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this month.
His research at the Centre in the late 1990s and the ensuing training courses the centre developed and ran had already contributed to the mining industry's achievement of a 75 per cent reduction in rockfall injuries and, a few years after the Beaconsfield disaster, Professor Potvin's invention of High Energy Absorbing Mesh has the potential to reduce the future exposure of miners to rockburst injuries. (A rockburst is a mining-induced seismic event, caused by a change in stress, resulting in a fault slipping or violent local stress-fracturing of the rock. Technically, it is an earth tremor.)
The development of HEA mesh, which won the 2008 Inventor of the Year, is one of the highlights of a research centre that almost didn't exist.
Geologists and geomechanics engineers wanting to set it up in 1992 failed in their application for a multi-million dollar Collaborative Research Centre grant and the Centre was started with a very modest budget, with the vision of and under the directorship of UWA 's Professor Richard Jewell. It was a joint venture between UWA , CSIRO the WA School of Mines, Curtin University and the Department of Minerals and Energy.
The partners provided seed funding of just $243,980.
In its first few years, oil and gas offshore geomechanics were part of the Centre's brief, until ACG board member Professor Mark Randolph initiated a Minerals and Energy Research Institute of WA -funded project to create the Centre for Offshore Foundation Systems at UWA .
"The Centre then concentrated on mining geomechanics and in 1996, struck gold," Professor Potvin said. "The joint venture received a Centre of Excellence grant from the State Government of half a million dollars, $150,000 of which went to Professor Randolph to help in the purchase of a new drum centrifuge, an essential facility for the development of world-class research in soil geomechanics."
Professor Potvin joined the AC G soon after and set about helping address the urgent safety issues in underground mines in WA. His courses on mine seismicity which had such success culminated in the creation of the first phase of the research project, Mine Seismicity and Rockburst Risk Management.
Now 12 years later, the project has entered its fifth phase with a budget of more than $1.5 million for the next three years.
"As well as software we have developed which is used in mining operations world-wide, the most significant legacy of this long-lasting project is a Masters and five PhD graduates who are all working for the benefit of the mining industry. Another two PhD students are currently supported by the project," Professor Potvin said.
Also over the past 12 years, the AGC has organised and hosted 20 international events, and its seminars on issues including mine closure and deep and high-stress mining tour the world, creating an enviable international reputation, particularly in South Africa, Canada, Europe and Chile.
ACG is now a recognised acronym within the mining industry around the world.
Published in UWA News, 6 August 2012