12 Oct 2021

Tackling Heating Challenges Throughout the Lifecycle of a Mine

Mining in the Snow
 

There’s a lot that goes into the operation of a mine: a huge workforce, a broad range of highly specialized equipment, and power and heating needs specific to each different area and task. It’s a complicated balancing act, no more so than when it comes to temperature control - not only do you need extra heat in winter, but each stage of the mine’s lifecycle has different heating requirements. 

Here, we’ll examine the challenges at each stage and look at what can be done to overcome them.

Exploration, assessment, and approval

As with most things in life, careful planning at the beginning will save you significantly further down the line. By including proactive heat planning in this first phase you can cut rework costs by around 15% on average.

Chances are you’ll be looking at a remote location with no grid access at least initially. So you’ll need reliable temporary heating and power with enough capacity to ensure your project remains on track at all times. And the choices you make at this point will have a knock-on effect for the next few months or possibly years. Are you going to install indirect heat with 70% efficiency of hydronic heat with 83% efficiency? The latter might be more expensive at the outset but reducing fuel consumption by 13% over a long period might be worth it.

To set yourself up for success at this stage it’s crucial to conduct thorough site analysis, including heat and fuel consumption calculations, total cost of ownership (TCO) projections, and project-specific solutions. That way you can be sure your budget is kept under control at all times.

Construction and commissioning

Once you’re getting the mine ready to open you will likely be building roads and accommodation for workers, and constructing facilities for water and waste management. This all requires a significant amount of power, as well as heat in most cases too.

Depending on the location, you’ll need heating to keep your workers warm for at least part of the year. You’ll need hot water all year round, potable and non-potable. If you’re in a remote location this will potentially require a boiler bypass system with pate exchangers. If construction is happening during a cold period you’ll also need a solution for thawing frozen ground or preventing freezing in the first place.

You’ll need to think carefully about what fuel to use - natural gas won’t always be available so you’ll have to calculate the most efficient and effective way of using electric, direct-fired, indirect, or hydronic heat to meet demand.

Production

Your mine will probably be ready to begin production before your utility power and permanent temperature control equipment have been hooked up. Delaying at this point would be frustrating and, more importantly, costly. 

Much better to have planned for your temporary heating and power solutions to continue operating until they are no longer needed. Your requirements may well have increased at this stage though, so it’s important to have flexible solutions that can be scaled up as demand fluctuates.

Be sure to look at all the options before making a decision on equipment and fuel. Electric, diesel, propane, and natural gas/LNG (liquefied natural gas) all have their own benefits but your provider will know which is best for you based on your individual site requirements.

If you’re fortunate enough to have direct utility power access from day one of your production, you may still need additional power or heating to meet seasonal demands or for specific functions. For instance, when you need to carry out heat load testing for chillers it may be more efficient to use hydronic heat.

If your site is too remote to ever be connected to the grid or natural gas pipelines, it makes sense to consider an onsite microgrid and battery power system for the rest of your mine’s life. Every mine is different and your power provider should be able to evaluate your needs and opportunities to devise the right bespoke solution for you. If you’re drilling natural gas, for example, they should be able to capture some of that gas and feed it into generators to power your site, making it completely fuel-independent.

Expansion

If things are going well, and there is more potential at the site, you’ll be looking to expand at some point. This will invariably mean additional power and heating requirements immediately during a secondary exploration phase. These extra demands will then ramp up further during the construction and production of the expansion and it will likely take time to get additional power from your main utility supplier. To avoid wasting any time you can bring in temporary solutions again just as you did at the start of your project.

Closure

When a mine reaches the end of its lifecycle it’s still incurring costs so closure has to be carried out in the most efficient way possible. You’ll need a partner that can dismantle whatever power and heating solutions have been put in place whilst still providing for comfort heating and other basic necessities during this final phase.


How to choose the right partner

Don’t make the mistake of choosing your temporary heating and power provider purely based on the rental cost. A thorough analysis of the full lifecycle of your mine, carried out with your provider, is essential to choosing the most cost-effective solution. Not only that, it will help you avoid any unexpected snags or even severe safety breaches further down the road.

Your heating plan needs to factor in not only the climate but the immediate environment where the heat source is located - is there anything in the vicinity that could be affected or could impact the equipment? If workers are nearby, will it have a negative impact on them?

You must also be clear on who will be installing and operating the equipment at each stage. If it is your staff, will they have enough knowledge or training to make the best use of it? How will you troubleshoot issues or deal with shutdowns?

By choosing Aggreko as a partner you can be sure that we have the expertise to guide you through every stage of your mine’s lifecycle. You can concentrate on being the experts in mining whilst we concentrate on being the experts in temporary power and heating. We’ll work with you from the very start of your project to design a strategy that takes every single factor into account and help your mine be as cost-effective and efficient as possible.