Friday, 5 June 2020
Industry Q&A: Energy Efficiency Across Fuel and Water Management on Mine Sites
Austmine Limited
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Industry Q&A: Energy Efficiency Across Fuel and Water Management on Mine Sites

With 2016 set to continue the pattern of cost focused market, Austmine caught up with Clive Gray, General Manager and Director at Australian Diversified Engineering (ADE) on several topics close to miners' hearts: water, fuel consumption and safety.

ADE is clearly passionate about innovation across your product lines. How do you ensure an ongoing culture of innovation within your organisation? 

We don’t restrict our design and engineering team to any “norms” of mining, as it’s a bit of a dinosaur industry. We encourage our staff to think outside the box and we are always looking to other industries to see if there are innovations or technologies which can be adapted and used in the mining sector, to either drive efficiencies and/or improve safety. We are currently designing product offerings using the latest carbon fibre technologies from the aerospace industries and thermal imaging technologies to provide safer operating environments. We also realise that to move forward in the current climate our business needs to evolve, and to this end we have started partnering and collaborating with our customers. This allows us to develop targeted products and keep costs down.

With miners so focused on OPEX currently, what should they be doing to try and reduce their fuel consumption? What options are available to them?

As energy can neither be created or destroyed, all that is required to reduce fuel consumption is to look at products that more efficiently convert the energy available in diesel fuel to the energy required to move the load. To achieve this we are working on a few strategies; one of the strategies is to reduce the tare weight of the machine by introducing composite fibre technologies into the mining industry. By reducing the tare weight of a machine, that machine is able to carry more payload for the same energy requirement and when empty can move around using less energy. As a very simple example, if we shift 15 tons from tare to payload, the fuel used on a 100 ton class truck would be between 10 and 15% less, or at current fuel prices around $100,000.00 per year. 

Another one of our strategies is to develop technologies that will make the operation of the machine more efficient. As an example, our ECO Spray premium water truck control system and water truck online fleet management program will improve the efficiency of water truck operations. By being able to monitor and control the amount of water being used we are able to optimise the fuel used. To expand upon the example: we have a water truck efficiency number, this number compares the amount of time a truck is driving around with the spray heads turned off, to the amount of time driving around with the spray heads turned on. The efficiency improvement comes for the operator being able to dial in the precise amount of water, in mm/square meter, and spend more time spraying and less time returning to the fill point. One of our customers is saving up to 3 trips to the fill point and carrying up to 200 tons less water in a 12 hour shift. In simple round numbers, this represents between 15 - 20% saving in fuel used. Add to this ECO Spray Premium, which can improve haul road conditions and rolling resistance and reduce haul road maintenance, and the effect on OPEX can be quite substantial.

Many mines both here in Australia and in regions around the world struggle with water supply, due to being located in remote or arid areas. How can ADE help miners with using less water in mining operations?

Our ECO Spray Premium water truck control system was primarily designed to greatly improve the safe operation of a mine haul road by putting a measured amount of water, mm per square meter, on the road so that the friction supply available in the road is not reduced below the friction demand of the vehicles operating on that haul road. Put simply: over-watered roads get slippery. By doing this we are able to reduce the amount of unsafe, unplanned movements which happen on mine sites across the country. As a spin-off of our efforts to increase the safe operating environment of the miners, we have also been able to greatly improve the use of this water asset. By being able to measure, monitor and adjust as required we believe it may be possible, given the right conditions, for mines to save hundreds of millions of litres of water per year. To monitor these savings in water usage our fleet management suite “ECO Spray Control” can produce reports on an hourly, daily or weekly basis showing water used and the efficiency of that water usage. 

We are also developing “The ADE Haul Road Forecast Report”; this report will give miners daily information on expected water truck and water usage requirements before the day even starts. This forecast report will help save water by stopping the unnecessary watering of haul roads. One of our greatest challenges has been the fact that we don’t actually put a value on the water used here in Australia. Most mines still see water as by-product waste of the mining operation which needs to be disposed of and the only way they can get rid of it is to spray it on the haul road. Unfortunately as described above this is not only inefficient, it is unsafe and it greatly increases the maintenance required on a haul road.  

A big emphasis in your offering to the sector is on safety. Australia has seen a rise in safety incidents and fatalities over the last 24 months; what do you think needs to be done differently across the industry as a whole to reduce this number?

One of the biggest issues I see facing the industry currently is that as a whole it still tends to fall back to what it knows and is not very open to anything new. There are those within the industry who feel it is safer to stick with the tried and true method; unfortunately it clearly is not. Again our new water truck control system is a good example of this. Over the last 20 years the industry has not changed the use of a water truck at all; we have seen a few placebo attempts in 2010 when the mining inspectorate called for “ground speed controlled” and  “spot spray” watering. The fact that there are still unplanned moments occurring would suggest that these initiatives have not worked. Whilst we have developed and implemented a truly innovative product, which improves safety and efficiency, we still face the barrier that people do not yet understand it, so it’s better if we stick to our tried and true method. 

Innovation is the key to safety and we seem to espouse it at every turn, however we are reluctant to be the first ones to utilize the innovation. It is difficult to find the relevant people to take time out of their already busy schedule to explain about a new innovation that could save a life. There needs to be a platform where innovations, improved products and processes, can be assessed and then promoted to the relevant team leaders. 

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