09 March 2020

Mining and Our Environment Can Live in Harmony.

By Alex Cornwell

Protecting the environment is crucial for our future existence.

But, so is mining…

This industry provides us with the materials we need to construct roads and hospitals, to build cars and houses, to make computers and satellites, to generate electricity and – well you get it. The world wouldn’t be the same without mining.

That’s why simply saying ‘stop mining it’s bad for the environment’ won’t get us anywhere. We need mining.

Working with many companies in the bulk material handling space, I’ve seen multiple players act to make the industry more environmentally friendly. This has been noticeable with an uptake in heavy-duty conveyors, which are a faster and greener means of transporting bulk materials than truck transportation. 

In 2016, Sempertrans partnered with Agudioto to develop the world´s longest aerial conveyor system, the FlyingBelt. This combination of cable way and conveyor belt stand on a ropeway 7.2km long and 36m high. The installation transports 1,500 tonnes of limestone and clay every hour from a quarry to a cement plant in Brazil. That’s the workload of 40 trucks – which would otherwise produce lots of harmful emissions.

Sempertrans haven’t stopped there though. They’ve also developed the TransEvo belt which can reduce the power consumption of conveyor systems by up to 25%. This is achieved by reducing indentation loss at idler stations.

While Sempertrans are providing solutions for mechanical conveying, open-pit mines continue to cause issues for conventional conveyors because of their steep inclines (sometimes as high as 70°).

Dos Santos International, manufacture sandwich belts which can operate vertically and offer a more environmentally friendly solution than trucks. With mines growing deeper, this solution is incredibly valuable - reducing cycle time, increasing production and lowering operating costs.

Joseph Dos Santos, founder of Dos Santos International, was keen to tell me about how the use of sandwich belts had benefitted his company at a Serbian (Yugoslavian) copper mine back in 1991.

He explained that their IPCHAC (In-Pit-Crushing and High Angle Conveying) system utilized two 2000 t/h in-pit primary crushers and a 4000 t/h sandwich belt to lift the combined production of 250mm minus ore, almost 100m directly up a steep mine to the surface.

This system had a major environmental impact, reducing this mine’s fleet of 200 ton haulers by 10. It also saved the company $12m on operational costs each year.

The mechanical conveyors I’ve talked about so far, all use rollers to make their conveyor belts move. Australian manufacturer, CPS Conveyors, have been innovating in this space since 2003 – introducing polymer rollers to the market.

Polymer rollers are more environmentally friendly than their steel counterparts. Their seal design reduces rim drag and their rotating mass means that the conveyor won’t need as much power to run. While the material load will always be the main reason for power consumption, small wins like this can help reduce power consumption by up to 20% on longer runs.

CPS’ market leading rollers also limit noise pollution. Independent testing in Australia found them to be the quietest ever tested, meaning that they make less disturbance to surrounding residents and wildlife.

Peter Copley, Engineer Manager at CPS, told me how the company prioritise innovation. He went onto explain how their new technology allows for a direct swap out for steel rollers for polymer rollers. Plus, further development of their Yeloroll X now allows for customers to run in excess of 20,000tph.

As serial innovators, CPS are making their mark on high tolerance idler frames too. For some time, the industry has accepted that a tolerance of +/-2mm on idler frames is best for mass production. However, in recent projects CPS have supplied idlers with maximum roller position deviations of under half a millimetre. This has reduced belt deviation and misalignment loads, which require a higher torque and consume more power.

These idlers have also reduced material spillages and belt damage in remote and environmentally sensitive areas, including wetlands and waterways. This protects the environment of debris and disturbances.

Peter also told me about multiple projects where CPS had provided more environmentally friendly solutions. For example, their Kestrel overland conveyor refit was found to reduce power consumption by over $8000/year. This was thanks to CPS rollers achieving 45% reduction of rotating inertia from idlers. This project also provided a noticeable noise reduction.

The mechanical conveyors that CPS, Dos Santos and Sempertrans specialise in are very energy efficient and effective. However, they’re not always the answer for the transportation of materials further down the line. That’s why improvements in pneumatic conveying are equally important for our environment.

Pneumatic conveyers are much more power hungry, but essential for transporting poisonous or smelly materials. That’s because, unlike mechanical conveyors, they’re enclosed tube systems that use compressed air or vacuums to transport their materials. This means there’s no chance of harmful spillages to the environment.

Schenck Process’ ProPhase dense phase pneumatic conveyors are arguably one of the most environmentally friendly pneumatic conveyors on the market. They’re two to four times more energy efficient than traditional lean phase pneumatic conveyors and don’t have open transfer points.

The technological advances show that the mining industry and the environment can live in harmony. However, there’s lots more to be done throughout the industry, not just in conveyors. I’m excited to see what’s next as more companies rise to the challenge.

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By Alex Cornwell

Alex is a business consultant specialising in the bulk material handling space across both light and heavy industries. Her experience covers all aspects of this niche industry, with her successfully working with global names and smaller players to fill technical and commercial positions. Alex is passionate about the industry and often shares her insights with her extensive network of engaged industry executives.

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