Anglo American has approved the development of the Aquila project in central Queensland’s Bowen Basin, which will become one of the most technologically advanced underground mines in the world, according to the company.

With an expected capital cost of $226 million (Anglo American share), development work began in September, with first longwall production of premium quality hard-coking coal in early 2022, the company said.

Aquila is an underground hard coking coal project, near Middlemount, which will extend the life of Anglo’s existing Capcoal underground operations by six years, to 2028, and continue to optimize the Capcoal complex, it said. The complex consists of the Capcoal open-pit mine, underground Grasstree operations and associated infrastructure, and is a joint venture between Anglo American (70%) and Mitsui & Co (30%).

Tyler Mitchelson, CEO of Anglo American’s Metallurgical Coal business, said Aquila was an important growth project for the business, and would provide ongoing employment opportunities for the company’s Grasstree workforce as the mine reaches its end of life.

“The Aquila project is a key part of our long-term business strategy, as we continue to optimize existing capacity in our operations,” Mitchelson said.

The mine will have a total average annual saleable production of around 5 million mt of premium quality hard-coking coal, according to Mitchelson.

Aquila will also continue to adopt Anglo American’s FutureSmart Mining program, which applies innovative thinking and technological advances to address mining’s major operational and sustainability challenges, the company said.

Mitchelson said, “Anglo American has been at the forefront of embracing innovation to drive the next level of mine safety and performance, and our Aquila mine will be developed as one of the most technologically advanced underground mines in the world.”

One of the initiatives the company is working on as part of this is remote operation of the longwall, along with an Australian-first intrinsically safe underground electronic tablets.