August 16, 2017

Mines use technology to reduce electricity consumption

For several years now, there have been global efforts to decrease the environmental impact of mining. Already, the mining industry has made efforts to shut down illegal and unregulated mines, choose more environmentally-friendly mining processes, implement green mining technologies, clean up the sites of closed mines, and perform more research and development of new green mining technologies. There are several ways mines can use technology to reduce electricity consumption as part of the goal of minimizing the industry’s impact on the environment.

Organizations in mining use a variety of technology and systems to reduce their consumption of energy, specifically targeting their use of electricity. These businesses can incorporate energy-efficient ventilation systems, alternatives to diesel-fueled engines, and energy-conserving products like LED lighting and fabric buildings to minimize the electricity consumption of their operations.

According to Mission 2016’s plan for The Future of Strategic Natural Resources, one of the primary ways mining companies can improve efficiency and minimize the environmental impact of mining is to implement green mining technologies. As it relates to electricity consumption, better ventilation and more efficient diesel engines are a better choice, since “10 percent of mining costs come from electricity consumption. Better ventilation systems and diesel engines could be purchased by mines to maximize efficiency. The Canadian Mining Initiative has created a list of approved diesel engines”, as a resource to mine operators.

High-efficiency ventilation systems reduce the need for additional power to operate the heavy-duty oxygenating of underground mining facilities. Ventilation systems are necessary to protect the health and safety of workers, and today’s more efficient systems operate on less electrical power, reducing the electrical consumption previously required to function effectively.

Diesel fuel is widely used to power mining vehicles that operate underground, and the harmful emissions from this type of fuel can be dangerous for workers’ health as they are admittedly carcinogenic. In order to dilute these emissions to make conditions safer, a vast amount of energy must be used, and the mining industry is implementing alternative energy sources in an attempt to replace diesel with a fuel or energy source that requires less electricity consumption to be cleaner and safer. Some of the topmost considered alternatives include hydrogen, natural gas (liquefied) and lithium-ion batteries.

Innovative products and modern technologies such as LED lighting can be highly effective at reducing electricity consumption and energy costs for a mining business. LED is one of today’s most efficient and developing technologies for lighting, offering a longer life, greater durability, and comparable or better quality of light. It’s estimated that by 2027, the “widespread use of LEDs could save about 348 TWh (compared to no LED use) of electricity: This is the equivalent annual electrical output of 44 large electric power plants (1000 megawatts each), and a total savings of more than $30 billion at today’s electricity prices,” according to Energy.gov.

Fabric buildings provide a critical benefit to commercial mining operations, since these highly durable structures can be used in almost any application with more energy-efficient benefits than traditional brick-and-mortar structures. One of the advantages to energy-consumption reduction of a tensioned fabric mining structure is the ability of natural light to penetrate the translucent material, therefore reducing the amount of time needed to use artificial light. The tensioned fabric membrane material is specially designed to make the interior 15°F cooler than exterior temperatures in the summer and 15°F warmer than exterior temperatures in the winter. Therefore, a fabric structure reduces the energy consumption needed to operate ventilation and HVAC systems.

A key concern of mining is the guaranteed increase in production costs over the mine’s operable lifetime: “When you set up a mine, you start by mining material [in an open cut mine] that is shallowest and closest to your processing facility, so you have the least cost of production. As the mine gets older, you get further and further away from the processing facility, so your inherent physical cost of movement goes up,” said Andrew Harding, iron ore boss at Rio Tinto. While a traditional building cannot be moved in order to negate this problem, a fabric structure is highly portable, and can be easily and quickly moved to a more effective location to minimize production costs.

By continuing to use advancements in technology to reduce electricity consumption in their operations, mining companies and the industry as a whole can make significant steps toward improving their energy bandwidth. Not only can these products and technologies significantly lower the overhead and production costs of these businesses, they can help transform the industry into one that’s friendlier to our environment and helps promote a sustainable future in energy.

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