Positive progress at ‘mine of the future’

12th February 2021 By: Halima Frost - Reporter

Positive progress at  ‘mine of the future’

SUM IT UP The Sustainable Underground Mining future mine project sums up the aspirations of the mining sector in regards to sustainable mining

Global automation company ABB says operators at the Sustainable Underground Mining (SUM) future mine project, have been able to make use of new remote technological systems implemented by the company since September 2020.

The SUM project aims to establish a new world standard for sustainable mining at great depths underground, in partnership with ABB, information technology solution provider Combitech, mining infrastructure provider Epiroc and engineering group Sandvik.

The project, devised by Swedish mining house Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara Aktiebolag (LKAB), is being conducted at LKAB’s Kiruna mine, near the town of Kiruna, in northern Sweden.

ABB was selected to lead the electrification and automation innovation on the project.

A pragmatic framework outlines ambitions for zero carbon dioxide emissions, completely safe mines for humans, energy efficiency increases of 50% and deeper mining.

ABBhas, to date, provided the electrification, connected control and operations management systems, high-visualisation and mobile-operator workplaces.

Meanwhile, ABB’s belief in the project is shown by the involvement of several global ABB product teams in the process.

“In terms of energy efficiency, the work is very much about building smart systems that can decide for themselves when machines should charge and when ventilation and water pumps should work,” says ABB underground mining automation global product manager Jan Nyqvist.

He adds that ABB’s solutions have already shown that a client could save more than 50% on energy consumption in terms of ventilation in an underground mine.

This is achieved by ventilating the air only to where it is really needed. “The Kiruna mine consists of about 65 km of tunnels, and people and machines do not inhabit all these spaces at all times.”

One of the solutions being implemented is a ventilation-based solution which prioritises safety, and Nyqvist points out that the system will sound an alarm if, for example, sensors identify a level of explosive gas that is too high in an area.

Further, the Konsuln orebody at the Kiruna mine is used to demonstrate future workplaces in a decentralised environment, with the efficient use of an autonomous electrical mobile transport system in a mixed environment.

Notably, real-time process information is available to all the partners involved.

When combined with the efforts of the SUM partnership, this is a way of introducing completely new technology solutions to the market for safer, more sustainable and more efficient mining production processes.

“We are taking significant strides towards a vision of the future operator environment through smarter working and demonstrable results.”

Electrification and automation are two important factors for the mining industry to continue its rapid, but effective, modernisation. Sharing information and data is, therefore, crucial to reach substantial end-goals, notes Nyqvist.

“It is becoming increasingly common for suppliers to create dedicated collaboration groups to reach the best possible solutions for customers.”

He enthuses that the collective successes and progress, as well as the meeting of key targets for SUM, provide initial evidence of the mutual benefits of collaboration.

Vision Division

Nyqvist says ABB started assessing the project by breaking down the vision in defined parts.

One part was about what the future operator environment should look like, and another about how the company should streamline and manage mining media, which “involves everything that has to do with water and energy in the mine”.

“After that, we conducted feasibility studies which, in turn, led to more ideas. For mining media, for example, we landed on 25 different suggestions.”

The selection of the most feasible solution will be based partly on LKAB priorities and partly on the benefits that specific solutions offer other companies involved in the partnership.

“Every member involved must feel that what we build is a good investment for them as well,” he adds.

Going Forward

ABB will continue to apply its knowledge of electrification, automation and workplaces, together with other suppliers, in the mining industry.

The partnership aims to find new methods and smarter solutions for mining operations in the future.

Testwork at LKAB’s Kiruna mine, as well as a virtual test mine, will continue to search for the best way of building a carbon dioxide-free and autonomous production system.

“ABBis integral to the next step, which is to build a demonstration workshop to connect the electrical and automation systems that have so far been developed for this challenging project.

“We will, through various developed scenarios, be able to show how the systems work together.”

Nyqvist concludes that, by 2022, theABBelectrification and automation solutions will be fully installed, with the aim to set a new, international standard for mining production by 2030.