07 Feb 2018

Handling the heat: temperature control, ventilation and mining efficiency

2017 Mine Ventilation Conference
 

As companies push the boundaries of mining exploration, digging deeper and in more remote locations, temperature control and ventilation take on an ever increasing level of importance. 

For these sites to be safe and productive it is imperative that temperatures are maintained and regulated, with moisture and contaminants extracted from the air. The continued analysis and development of such technology is essential to the future of the mining industry.

Consistent ventilation and temperature control are essential to the welfare of the employees working in the mines. Fractional changes in the temperature or air quality inside a mine can damage equipment or reduce performance and efficiency – potentially leaving those working in the mine exposed to harmful contaminants.

Temperature control is now more important than ever as climates become more volatile and the surface temperature of mine sites begin to rise. When this increase in surface temperature occurs unexpectedly, onsite permanent cooling equipment used for regulation can become less effective, resulting in adverse changes to temperature, air quality, efficiency and safety underground. Even small variations to the temperature of a mine can result in heat exhaustion, dehydration and cramps – all of which can have potentially dangerous effects on miners’ welfare and productivity.

In addition to controlling the temperature inside the mine, the ventilation systems are crucial in removing harmful fumes that occur during the extraction process. For example, in the case of coal mines, gasses released during the mining process can be extremely combustible, meaning underground fires are a potentially deadly, but avoidable risk. In the case of uranium mining, radioactive radon gas, a byproduct of the mining process, is extremely dangerous and can cause lung cancer in people who are exposed to it, including mine workers. Aside from the potentially deadly effects contaminated air can have on miners, equipment such as drills, pumps and other mobile devices that are often powered by diesel can all contribute to increased temperatures and poor air quality underground.

Essentially, an effective cooling and ventilation system reduces these risks, whilst allowing for optimum productivity in challenging conditions.

When it comes to improving overall working conditions underground, the efficiency and power of the cooling and ventilation systems is key. Both scientific research and common practice show that heat exhaustion is far less likely to occur if the ventilation and cooling systems are running at greater than 250 W/m2 at an underground work site. In the event of an extraordinary rise in surface temperature, where existing equipment is unable to reliably increase output to match the rising temperatures, mine sites face possible shut-downs and safety issues unless they have an effective back-up plan in place.

One of the worst things that could happen to a mine site is that it is rendered operationally unsafe during extreme peaks in temperature. With above ground temperatures often reaching beyond 45°C in some Australian mining regions, health, safety and productivity can all be in jeopardy. Controlling and regulating temperatures underground, as well as extracting moisture and contaminants, is one of the most effective ways of ensuring that the safety and welfare of employees is maintained, and mine productivity remains at the highest levels possible.