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Quantifying the cost of dilution in

underground mines
R.C. Pakalnis, R. Poulin and J. Hadjigeorgiou

Abstract -Appro.rimately 51 % of all o1.p production irr planlproduction parameters and selecting the method of
Cunadian undergl-ound metul mines is derived dir-ec,tlyfi-om processing the ore. This paper addresses the problems asso-
open-stope operations. Thismethod I-equiresthut lus,qe e.rcu- ciated with developing and calibrating dilution models and
13utionsremain nprn ur~rilthe ore i~extra(.ted with a mininnlm the associated econoniic impacts of these problems. It further
ac~ceprahlelevel of dilution. A survey of 14ndet.ground mines attempts to relate mine-design practice with predicted and
in 1988 r.~pnr.redrhur a major- factor it1 their- c.1o~111.e was recorded dilution.
uncot~trolledclilution.It hus h e m reported thut 40% ofopen-
stope operutions M ~ E I X Jexperienc.in,q dilrttiorz in r.rc.cj.ss of' Dilution model
20%. This level ofdilution has signific.ant inlldic~~tions on the
economic, \,iahility of'u project, espec~iully~,herlone cotlsid- Ore is generally defined through a geological model that
cJr-sthut u rate ( f r e t u r n on a po.siti~~c~
pr.c?j~c,tis generally synthesizes the known characteristics of the deposit. To
between 10% utld 20%. This paper r.eporr.s otl the ~ ~ a r i o u s nieasure dilution, one must assume that the ore is delineated
definitions od'dil~ition,on the nzerhods cdsropc tlesign rhat are in quantity and quality and that the rock volume can effec-
btith the ohjec,tit'e of t-cduc,irrgdilution u t ~ don tively be measured with a degree of confidence. While this
a rr~c.entlyu~~ailahle sur-vey rethniyur rhat c~nuh1e.rdilrrtior~to model will never coincide completely with the actual deposit
he quanrifi~d. (Elbrond, 1994), it can be refined as information concerning
the deposit accumulates.
Introduction There is an even greater uncertainty concerning the grade
of the waste material (i.e., material below the cutoff grade).
The importance of dilution to the economics of a mining Understandably, limited efforts are devoted to the evaluation
operation is well recognized and is retlected by the fact that of the grade of the waste. However. dilution is more often
dilution records are kept by most operations (Mining Source inferred than physically measured. Because the exact grade
Book, 1995).Asnoted by Tintor (1 988),excessivedilution is of all of the components of the wastelore mix is not well
reported as a major factor in the closure of niany Canadian known, the dilution estiniate can carry a sizable error.
underground mines. In measuring the volume of wall slough (external dilu-
Ore losses and dilution occur during all stages of mining. tion), the difference between the design tonnage and the
and, while several models can investigate the influcnce of tonnage actually achieved is a better measure of mining
dilution, it is the quantification of dilution that poses the success, even if it does not resolve all of the problems.
greatest challenge. Furthermore, it is now recognized that Because the metal content of the external dilution is not well
what is considered an acceptable level of dilution is a func- known, uncertainty remains in terms of cost. This external
tion of the ore grade, the grade of thc dilution material, costs dilution is a source of cost as it is mucked. transported.
and metal prices. Consequently, the degree of acceptable crushed, ground, processed and stored as tailings. Because it
dilution differs from site to site. is subgrade material, it is not a source of revenue sufficient to
Elbrond (1994) proposed a conceptual diagram in which cover all costs encountered. The rock, if void of economic
the presence of ore losses and dilution during successive value, as is generally the case with vein mining, will further
phases of niining are traced. Although this is ii simplified exacerbate the situation. This would be a direct cost attrib-
approach. it still serves to recognize the complexity of the uted to dilution.
problem. beginning with the need to define precisely the Lane (1988) showed that mining operations have l~miting
matcrial quantity and quality throughout all stages of the factors, e.g., mining capacity and milling capacity, that
mining process. This includes delineating the deposit, defin- influence the overall economics. These are instrumental in
ing the cutoff grade, selecting the optimum mining method/ defining optimum operating practices. Mining of waste ma-
terial through dilution results in an opportunity cost,
R.C. Pakalnis and R. Poulin are professors with the Department of where capacity is lost because of the displacement of ore by
Mining and Minerals Processing Engineering, the University of
waste within the overall mine/rnill circuit. This displacement
British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. J. Hadjigeorgiou is a profes-
sor with the Department of Mining and Metallurgy, Laval University,
results in acost, expressed by the cash tlow, being distributed
Quebec City, Canada. SME Preprint 95-260, SME Annual Meeting, over a longer time period. resulting in an overall decrease in
March 6-9, 1995, Denver, CO. Manuscript Feb., 1995. Discussion of the net present value. The size of the cost is directly depen-
this peer-reviewed and approved paper is invited and must be dent upon the discount rate used; the higher the rate, the
submitted, in duplicate, prior to March 31, 1996. higher the cost of postponing the cash intlow. The examplc


Table 1 - Definition of dilution* (Pakalnis, 1986)

Eq. (1): Dilution = (Tons waste mined)/(Tons ore mined) WASTEIORE, WASTU(0RE + WASTE) I
Eq. (2): Dilution = (Tons waste mined)/(Tons ore mined + tons 250%
waste mined) z
Eq. (3): Dilution = (Undiluted in-situ grade as derived from
drill holes)/(Sample assay grade at drawpoint)
Eq. (4): Dilution = (Undiluted in-situ grade reserves)/(Mill
head grades obtained from same tonnage) 1
Eq. (5): Dilution = (Tonnage mucked - tonnage blasted)/
(Tonnage blasted)
Eq. (6): Dilution = Difference between backfill tonnage
I 0 0.5 1 1.5 2
actually placed and theoretically required to fill void
Eq. (7): Dilution = Dilution visually observed and assessed Fig. 1 (a) - Dilution vs. depth of slough.
Eq. (8): Dilution = ("xuamount of meters of footwall slough +
"y"amount of hanging wall slough)/(ore width)
Eq. (9): Dilution = (Tons drawn from stopes)/(Calculated TONNCS ORE
reserve tonnage) over the last ten years
1 * Dilution is generally expressed as a percentage. 1 /

given by Bawden et a]. (1989) shows a mine, operating at a

constant capacity, that produces the same amount of metal WASTE/
but with an increasing life as dilution increases. Dilution in NOT PLANNE
that example has zero grade and extra mining and milling
costs associated with mining of the dilution are lumped with
the opportunity cost. Another scenario would see cutoff
grade increase in reaction to dilution to maintain mill-head
feed grade. The quantity of total metal produced would be WIDTH OF ORE
reduced, and the opportunity cost would then apply to the HANGING WALL(H/W)
unmined portion of the deposit.

Defining dilution Fig. 1 (b) - Schematic definition of dilution.

A dilution value is routinely recorded by most mine

operators (Mining Source Book, 1995). However, it is not it was shown that empirical methods are the most popular
always determined in an identical fashion. While it is ac- design tools. Empirical tools are based on local experience or
cepted that the resulting dilution is influenced by the mine on some geomechanical-based classification system. Such
design, there exists several methods of defining and record- systems should promote economical, yet safe, designs and
ing dilution. Table 1 summarizes the definitions that are now must correctly be calibrated against case studies that are
used to calculate dilution. These definitions (Eqs. ( I ) through representative of their future applications.
(9))were derived from a survey of 22 mine operators through- The level of dilution budgeted for a particular method of
out Canada (Pakalnis, 1986).The term "waste" in Table 1 and extraction is critical to the overall economics of a project,
Fig. 1 refers to the external dilution, or unplanned dilution, considering that dilution values of between 10% and 30% are
that is mined, whereas the term "ore" refers to that which is generally employed and that the rate of return for project
expected to be mined, i.e., drilled and blasted. economics are between 10% and 20%. Thevalues for dilution
A review of Canadian miningpractice (Scobleet al., 1994) that are employed are largely based upon the type of method,
has shown that the two most widely used definitions are Eq. stope width and/or experience of the person conducting the
(1 ) and Eq (2) in Table 1. Figure 1 shows the sensitivity of the feasibility study (O'Hara, 1980). Methods have been avail-
above two definitions to the amount of wall slough, calcu- able that relate the critical factors of stope design to the
lated as afunction of the ore width. An ore body whose width estimated dilution. These methods are largely based on relat-
is "n" meters (from footwall to hanging wall) and has "n" ing the critical parameters to the observed stope behavior.
meters of slough (i.e, the depth of slough is equal to the width Nonentry mining methods, such as open stoping, are
of the ore body) would result in adilution of 100% according gaining increased prominence in Canadian mines. Accept-
to Eq (I ) and 50% according to Eq. (2). In fact, the maximum able dilution is highly dependent upon grade. A higher-grade
dilution that one can realize by Eq. (2) is loo%, because it is stope can still be economical. However, a lower-grade stope
insensitive to wall slough. The relative difference is less at with the same dilution will no longer be feasible. Nonentry
lower dilution. It is for this reason that Eq. (1) was selected methods of mining can accept a certain degree of wall slough
and recommended as a standard measure of dilution. without endangering mine personnel.
Of the empirical methods of open-stope design, the fol-
Mine design lowing two have received increased prominence in the last 15
years: the "dilution approach" and the "modified stability
Modem mine design employs analytical, numerical and graph" method. While both methods rely heavily on a rock
empirical methods. In a comprehensive survey of ground mass classification, they differ in that the stability graph
control practices in Ontario mines (Barclay and Kat, 1989). relies on data collected from several mine operations, and the






OIL.(%) - Slope 01lulion(%1,le. 10%. DIL(%) - I 0

R M R - CSlR flock Mass RalinalX1, te. 60%. R M R - 60


Slope Oilu~an - 10% 6% .

hydraulic Radius = 1 lrn 3m -
S l o p RMR = 56%
S I O ~Width = 15m 2 8m

ER 180m~irn1h 9om' m
Excaval,oo Rate
Soan(Sl,che lsnglh) 3 i m *

2700m',A:n -
5 10 1:> 20
He,gnl - 68m 1 2Or.l
Stone Depln - J608rr 1 4dm Delo*
Slope I n ~ l ~ l a l i a=n 68'

Jo#m#np Psrrliel 10 Hangng w * ,

- 9'

hang l g Wall n Relaxallon

Fig. 3(a) - Dilution-approach design equations (after Pakalnis,
Fig. 2 - Modified stability graph (after Potv~n,1988). 1993).


STOPE C A T E G O R Y - P L A N la,

5 10 15

Fig. 3(b)- Dilution-approach design chart for isolated-stope configuration

dilution approach relies upon information collected initially N' = stability number,
from one operation. Q = modified tunneling-quality index (NGI) w ~ t ha stress
reduction factor ret to one (after Barton, 1974).
Stability graph method A = stress factor.
B = joint-orientation factor, and
This is an empirical method for open-stope design pro- C = gravity factor
posed by Mathews et al. (1981). I t was only after Potvin
(1988) modified the method, based on more field data. that The hydraulic radius (HR) equals the surface areadivided by
the method was widely accepted in the industry. In its present the perimeter.
form, the stability graph (Fig. 2) links a stability number (N') The method has been the subject of recent work by
to the hydraulic radius (HR) of the studied stope surface. The Nickson ( 1 992) and Hadjigeorgiou and Leclair ( 1994). Dur-
stability number is calculated according to the following ing the last three years. an extensive data-collection field
equation program was undertaken. In the updated stability graph
geomechanical database. there are now 228 documented case
N'=QxAxBxC studies of unsupported open stopes and 163 stopes where
where cable bolts were installed. The updated database has permit-
ted a qualitative and quantitative reevaluation of the stability


Underbreak (unrecoveredore) Overbreak
16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6


161514131211109 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
@ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ J
Blast Holes Layout --
--- -
- -- - -

Fig. 5 - Vertical section of open stope at Louvicourt mine showing

planned and actual stope profile - laser survey.

stope" design chart is based upon 6 1 observations of dilution,

as estimated visually and by assay.
Figure 4 shows the original "isolated-stope" database

10 15 20 25
superimposed upon the "stability graph" method. It is inter-
esting to note that the "stable zone" on Fig. 2 is generally
HYDRAULIC RADIUS (m) associated with dilution values ranging from 0% to 5%,
whereas the "caved zone" has values in excess of 15%. This,
Fig. 4 - Recorded dilution at Ruttan plotted on modified stability however, is largely based upon observational, assay and
graph. muck tonnage and not on a surveyed volume, as will be
discussed subsequently.
graph guidelines. While the design guidelines have been
refined, the method is considered a valid design tool. Cavity monitoring
The stability graph method, however, is subjective (i.e.,
"stable" vs. "cave" conditions), and, despite the use of Until recently, one of the major problems was quantifying
quantifiable values, the precise degree of inherent conserva- open-stope dilution. The use of laser survey systems has
tism is not known. Furthermore, the method reflects "cur- provided a considerable tool in determining underground-
rent" and "past"practice, which may have been influenced by excavation volumes in a precise and efficient manner (Miller
factors such as legislation, local practices and particular et al., 1992). The instrument generally employs a laser-
geological peculiarities and, therefore, does not necessarily survey range finder integrated within a motorized scanning
constitute an optimum-design methodology. Research is head. The range finder can be suspended in a stope or inserted
being conducted by the authors in quantifying the observed down a borehole as small as 200 mm (7.8 in.). Through
stability in terms of dilution values, as assessed by survey calibrated rotation of the laser range finder, a three-dimen-
methods and discussed subsequently. sional stope outline can be generated and, subsequently, a
volume can be determined. This technology is becoming
Dilution approach more routinely employed throughout Canadian mining op-
erations. Germain et al. (1995) reported on such a cavity
The dilution approach for estimating open-stope dimen- monitoring system in operation at the Louvicourt mine,
sions was aculmination of a five-yearjoint effort between the Quebec, Canada. In that system, a laser survey is conducted
Ruttan mine of the Hudson Bay Mining & Smelting Inc., after excavating each stope. In a typical section, it is possible
CANMET and the Department of Mines of Manitoba to compare planned stope contours to the actual profile after
(Pakalnis, 1993). The overall objective of the project was to blasting. This enables the operator to estimate the amount of
develop ground stability guidelines for the mining of large underbreak and overbreak (Fig. 5).
stopes. The parameters most critical to the open-stope design Pakalnis et al. (1995) reported on the use of a laser survey
were established after an extensive statistical and observa- at the Detour Lake mine, where it was necessary to develop
tional approach showed that, for a particular stope, the design guidelines for sublevel retreat mining. This particular
resultant dilution was largely a function of the following: case study was of interest in that the mine was operating
narrow open stopes with average widths approaching 5 m (16
the rock-mass rating of the hanging wall (Bieniawski, ft.). As shown in Fig. 6, dilution is particularly critical for
1976), narrow stopes; the narrower the stope, the higher the dilution
the hydraulic radius of the hanging wall, for the same amount of wall slough. The open stope at Detour
the rate that the hanging wall is exposed, and Lake is generally steeply dipping (70") with a strike length in
the stope configuration (isolated, rib or echelon). excess of 300 m (985 ft.) and a vertical height of I00 m (328
ft.). Widths range between 3 m (9.8 ft.) to over 10 m (33 ft.).
Figure 3(a) shows the derived relationships that were The mining method used is sublevel retreat with the gold-
subsequently modified into design charts. An example of the bearing ore comprised of competent mafic and weaker talc-
"isolated-stope" configuration is shown in Fig. 3(b). The schist material. The study was conducted over a two-year
design chart shows the resultant dilution employing an expo- period. The main objective was the development of a mining
sure rate equal to zero, as defined in Fig. 3(a). The "isolated- method that incorporated maximum stope dimensions with


r-1 Induced & Inherent
I Dilution

----]I -

Geolog~cStructure 1 Tme

+ Overhangs lncreaslng Hydraulic Radlus

- Stress Blast Darnageloverbreak

1 Slope Geometry
idqlegr dip, r h I

t Drill Deviation
Human Error
lor lling ruweylng etc i

Fig. 7 - Sources of dilution at Detour Lake mine (Pakalnis, et al.,

Fig. 6 - Dilution as a function of stope width 1995).



$g EL. 5 6 7 5 . h




. .
,::: ) ,\ EL.,5C25.0m

Scale no

Fig. 8 - Stope-laser survey showing dilution due to undercutting of
the hanging wall. Dilution recorded as tons per meter of stope length. Fig. 9 - Adverse geometry resulting in wall slough.

minimal dilution. The major sources of dilution were as requirements (i.e., slots for blasting).
shown in Fig. 7. A major contributor to dilution was the Once the mine operator quantifies the level of resulting
degree of undercut that resulted when developing the indi- dilution, it is possible to introduce the necessary modifica-
vidual sublevels for purposes of mining, as shown in Fig. 8. tions to the mine plan, such as stope dimensions, sequencing,
In all instances, the undercut had failed along an existing ground support, rate of mining and other parameters that are
parallel structure. This would result in dilution levels in at his control.
excess of 5%, solely due to the existence of the undercuts. In
addition, irregularities (doglegs) in the stope geometry re- Conclusions
sulted in wall slough, as shown in Fig 9. The above analysis
is only made possible by using the cavity monitoring system. While dilution is a major concern in underground mines,
The laser system was also employed to verify the "dilution it has been difficult to quantify. Consequently, attempts to
approach" (Fig. 3), which was found to closely approximate assign a cost value have been severely hindered. This paper
the measured motion to within 5% of actual. The above discusses empirical techniques that have been applied to
enables one to quantify the effects of increased stope dimen- mine design with the aim of controlling the amount of
sions on dilution and determine the associated benefits that dilution. The validity of these methods improves when field
may arise through increased support and lower development data are further calibrated. In this respect, rock-mass classifi-


Atrlca, pp. 97-106.
cation and laser cavity monitoringsystems are valuable aids.
Elbrond. J., 1994, "Economic effects of ore losses and rock dilution." CIMBulletin, Vol. 87,
A reliable methodology to quantify ore dilution enables
NO. 978. pp 131-134.
the operator to perform a costbenefit assessment of imple-
Germain P.. Hadjigeorgiou J., and Leuard J.F.. 1995, "Rock mass characterization studies
menting alternative designs. The alternate design may incor- a1 Louvicourt mine." ISRM Congress, Tokyo. Japan.
porate the modification of span, support, mine sequence, rate Hadjigeorgiou. J., and Leclair, 1994. Stability Method, Internal Reports. University of Laval.
of extraction, geometry, etc., to arrive at a calculated overall Lane. K.F.. 1988, The Econom~cDefinition of Ore, Mlnlng Journal Books Ltd.. London,
economic value for a project. + England. 149 pp.
Mathews, K.E., e l al.. 1981, "Prediction of stable excavation spans for mining at depths
below 1000 meters in hard rock," Canada, CANMET-Department of Energy, Mines and
Acknowledgments Resources. DSS Serial No. OSQ80-00081, DSS File No. 17SQ.23440-0-9020.
Miller. F.. Potvin, Y., and Jacob, D ,1992, "Laser measurement of open stope d~lution."CIM
The authors would like to thank the operations that partici- Bulletin. Vol 85. July-August, pp. 96-102.
pated in this study and, in particular, would like to thank the Mining Source Book, 1995. Southam Publications Inc
Detour Lake mine of Placer Dome Canada Ltd., CANMET- Nickson, S.. 1992. Cable Support Guidelines for Underground Hard Rock Mine Opera-
Department of Natural Resources, Canada, and the National tions." M.S. thesis. University of British Columbia, pp. 223.

Science and EngineeringCouncil of Canada. Particular thanks O'Hara, T.A., 1980, "Quick guide to the evaluation of orebodies," CIM Bulletin, pp. 87-99.

i s extended to Dr. S. Vongpaisal of CANMET. Pakalnis. R.. and Vongpaisal. S.. 1993, "Mlne design an empirical approach.'' Innovatfve
Mine Deslgn for the 21sr Century, Bawden and Archlbald, eds., Balkema, Rotterdam,
Netherlands. pp. 455 - 467.
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DECEMBER 1995 1141