SA mining company develops regenerative locomotive

27th March 2015

By: Dylan Stewart

Creamer Media Reporter


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Gold miner Sibanye Gold is in the second phase of developing its own hybrid locomotive with regenerative braking functionality, Sibanye Gold senior VP of technical services Peter Turner tells Mining Weekly, further noting that the first phase of the development was completed last year.

Turner believes that this locomotive is one of the first of its kind in the world.

“Like a hybrid car, when the train decelerates, power is pumped back into the batteries where it is stored for future use by the electric motors,” he explains.

The second phase of the development seeks to reconfigure the first prototype of the synchronous ac locomotive into a hybrid format with newly developed, medium-voltage batteries as well as a Tier 4 generator set on board.

Sibanye Gold VP of engineering Karel Opperman notes that Sibanye Gold still has a large contingent of diesel-driven locomotives underground.

He explains that, generally, battery-powered locomotives are favoured over diesel owing to the lack of emissions from battery locomotives as well as the reduced complexity and maintainability.

Replacement of diesel locomotives with conventional battery locomotives, however, requires large amounts of additional capital, such as spare batteries for alternating shifts and additional infrastructure in the form of battery bays, which require additional and substantial excavations.

He suggests, however, that the Sibanye Gold locomotive could achieve significant savings in terms of a replacement strategy in the form of reduced infrastructure development and no requirement for spare batteries.

The hybrid locomotive will not need spare batteries or a battery bay in which to charge them as the locomotive will use both its regenerative braking ability and the on-board generator set to maintain adequate charge in the battery to facilitate all tramming activities. The Tier 4 generator set will also reduce emissions to a fraction of current levels emitted by diesel machinery, Opperman adds.

Moving towards Natural Gas
Opperman says Sibanye is seriously considering compressed natural gas as a power source for its locomotives, stating that the company is currently in the trial phase of developing a natural-gas-powered locomotive.

Both the Sibanye Gold locomotive and the natural gas locomotive initiatives have come as a result of the International Agency for Cancer Research’s classification of diesel particulate matter as carcinogenic.

The classification may lead to the implementation of new legislation imposing more stringent regulations on emissions in underground mines.
Opperman explains that the new legislation is being implemented because of the health and safety risks, particularly in terms of ventilation and employee exposure, which diesel poses.

He notes that the proposed shift from using diesel to natural gas is also in response to the high cost of diesel, as well as the rigid infrastructural expenses encountered when using either electrical or battery-powered locomotives.

Guard Communications Systems
Turner states that the biggest leap in the industry in the last few years – particularly for rail-based, horizontal underground transport – is the development of safety technology.

Major accident and, therefore, injury and fatality reductions have been achieved through the implementation of the guard communication and proximity detection systems, also known as a locomotive driver information system, he states.

Sibanye introduced the system in 2012 and is currently 90% complete with implementation.

Opperman explains that, as underground locomotives are not always on the leading end of the train, the locomotive driver has limited visibility of obstructions or persons that may be in its path.

To avoid accidents, guards placed at the alternate end to the locomotive were previously equipped with a pea whistle to signal to the driver if there was an obstruction; however, the guard communications system now allows for the guard to limit the speed of the locomotive or to stop the train.

“If the speed limit or the recommended direction as set by the guard is breached, the locomotive will trip.”

Proximity detection systems detect the presence of nearby locomotives (and otherwise identified hazards) and warn the driver, should the guard be unable to see the impending collision approaching. These interventions have reduced collisions and associated incidents substantially, says Opperman.

He states that the bulk of the equipment used to facilitate Sibanye’s guard communication and proximity detection system is provided by mining controls and solutions company A&R Engineering.

“The rate at which mining safety technology is increasing means that it makes sense to replace current systems with new technology almost every three years, imposing quite a rapid indirect depreciation rate on this equipment.”

Opperman ventures that, while Sibanye has had to install additional hub and display units to conventional locomotive controllers, the locomotive controllers of the future will have these systems built in.

Edited by Leandi Kolver
Creamer Media Deputy Editor


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