With the mining industry shifting towards more energy efficient processes, mining consulting and engineering services provider BBE is observing increased demand for developing and implementing energy efficiency in ventilation and cooling processes.
“Ventilation, cooling and pumping are the major energy consumers at a mine. We’ve been energy conscious from day one, but the tactics we’ve adopted have changed noticeably,” notes BBE director Richard Gundersen.
He states that time-of-use tariffs for electricity set by State-owned power utility Eskom, such as using electricity at night when it is cheaper than using it in the day, can play a significant role in providing opportunities to be more cost and energy efficient.
“Ventilation, particularly on-demand, is becoming more topical. You can switch specific fans on or off, depending on the location, and keep cooling aligned to where the activity is taking place in a mine,” he explains.
BBE director Wynand Marx illustrates that, while more suppliers are developing and providing on-demand ventilation systems, many health and safety factors need to be considered.
Activating and deactivating components such as fans, fridge plants, open regulators, and similar machinery involved in ventilation and cooling presents risks, such as the unintended concentration of pollutants, possibly hindering mine safety.
“You need that specialist knowledge of a living mine, and that’s where we become involved. We understand the risks associated with it, particularly in terms of mine health and safety legislation,” explains Marx.
He adds that legislation stipulates maximum ambient temperatures permitted in mines, as well as the maximum concentration of gases and other pollutants, such as radiation, dust and exhaust emissions, from mobile equipment.
“Companies can sell you the tools and gadgets, but how do you programme them using the appropriate algorithms? If a fire starts, you need to make sure you have sufficient ventilation to mitigate its effects. We’re cautious about cooling and ventilation on- demand,” states Gundersen.
Meanwhile, advancing technologies and a greater emphasis on improved health and safety in underground mines have resulted in mechanisation, reducing the underground staff complement.
He adds that, although increased levels of mechanisation does minimise risk to underground workers, the increase in equipment and power use necessitates additional considerations in terms of managing heat levels and ventilation.
As such, BBE is changing its approach in terms of diluting gases from exhaust fumes.
“The newer engines used in this type of machinery are more efficient and cleaner. In the past, we diluted the exhaust gases and that generally was sufficient to remove the heat. Now that machinery produces fewer exhaust gases, we need to introduce systems to do the cooling,” explains Gundersen.
Gundersen says BBE’s wealth of consulting experience on multiple continents enables it to provide nuanced solutions specific to the circumstances of mining clients.
He highlights that, with regard to cooling projects, the African industry remains a large focus for the company in terms of its growth, particularly in providing its skills, experience and consulting knowledge for second-tier miners who lack the resources of mining majors.
BBE’s focus on in-house skills development and training contributes significantly to the company’s operations in Africa, particularly as many African countries have introduced legal requirements and/or incentives for companies to upskill and employ local workers, says Gundersen.
In addition to adhering to black economic- empowerment standards in South Africa, the company has worked with local contractors in African countries, such as Mali, he adds.
“From a consulting point of view, we see growth locally and in Africa, as there’s a need for more on-site services, where the focus is more on stringent health and safety regulations. This is especially true with ventilation, as African mines are getting deeper and hotter,” states Marx.