Mining: Reducing water usage, reducing costs

The mining industry is under ever-increasing pressure to reduce its environmental impact. Australian Diversified Engineering sales manager Eric Tomicek explores a technology which helps mines reduce water use and operate more safety.

Large mining trucks driving on dirt roads in an open cut mine will cause dust that can impede visibility and affect the health of the workers, it is important to suppress the dust to ensure continuous and safe operations.

Dust suppression methods have changed very little over time. Water trucks are still used to spray billions of litres of water per year on to unsealed haul roads. The mine site road network is always changing and cannot be sealed with tarmac or pavement so they must remain an unsealed dirt road. The commonly used spray methods result in a dangerous working environment – trucks can slip, or worse, roll over on over-watered roads - and waste a valuable resource, water.

In 2013, Australian Diversified Engineering (ADE) set out to solve the safety related issues of mine haul road watering. The result was ECO Spray Premium, the only spray system in the world that can consistently spray a measured amount of water to ensure haul roads are not overwatered.

By solving the issue of overwatering, ADE also reduced water wastage. On some sites it is estimated that 1.3 billion litres of water can be saved every year by using the ADE system instead of conventional spray systems. That also means 1.3 billion tonnes of water was not required to be moved by the water truck that results in a significantly reduced fuel burn.

It is rare when safety and cost savings align, but in the case of ECO Spray Premium, a new level of standard was achieved that is bringing about major change in the industry.

Further improving on this ability to save water is a tool that can forecast future water truck requirements. Normally if a mine site has 5 water trucks in its fleet, all of them will constantly be in operation spraying the haul roads to supress dust.

As an example, using the water truck forecast tool, miners will know that in the early morning and late afternoon when the weather is cooler, only 2 water trucks will be necessary to meet dust suppression requirements. It is estimated mining companies can save over AU$1 million dollars a year by only deploying water trucks when required. The reduction in water truck usage also translates into less water and fuel use, and less truck maintenance.

The commonly used spray methods result in a dangerous working environment – trucks can slip, or worse, roll over on over-watered roads - and waste a valuable resource, water.

To achieve savings, water trucks must be deployed and operated correctly. To monitor operations, ADE has developed ECO Spray Control, a fleet management system that monitors and records water truck usage.

Thanks to this system, miners can quickly export reports that can be compared against the forecast reports to assess operational performance. The fleet management system can even automatically remotely control settings or operate the water truck spray system using geo-fence automation for absolute control.

Developing this powerful new family of products required unconventional thinking and non-conformance with the industry norms. The original water truck spray systems available to the industry were very basic with limited control of water output. The deficient hardware required procedures that compromised operations.

Over time, in an effort to improve water truck operations, hardware was updated by the industry based on these procedures, the same procedures that were originally a compromise. The result is water truck operations that do not satisfy safety expectations and do not help the financial position of the mining operation in these challenging economic times.

Development is still ongoing at ADE with the next phase set to introduce supporting tools for the water truck operator. For example, feeding back relevant mine operational data like what roads have been watered and when will further improve efficiency, safety and the overall operation. Water truck operators will be able to react quickly to real time information so that a safe mine and effect dust suppression is achieved.

Miners are under the spotlight to ensure they are reducing their effect on the surrounding natural resources. Mines throughout Australia and the world are surrounded by communities, livestock and agricultural land and will now benefit from improved dust control and reduced water usage.

Eric Tomicek is sales manager, Australian Diversified Engineering. This article was written exclusively for Eco-Business.

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