By Michael Gribbons, president, CEO, and co-founder of Maestro Digital Mine for the February/March 2023 edition of the Canadian Mining Journal
Controlling mine ventilation is far more critical today than it has been over the past decade.
Traditionally, environmental conditions are monitored to keep the miners safe, meet regulatory requirements and increase productivity by getting miners back to the face quicker. The focus from the mine perspective was rarely around energy consumption since a potential 30% savings in power was not equivalent to a 10% increase in production. Production and worker safety trumped over energy reductions in almost every case.
Flash forward to today’s global challenges where rising CO2 levels and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions account as the major man-made cause of climate change. Governments and shareholders are starting to direct industry on several ESG fronts including reducing their carbon footprint.
Outside of comminution, mine ventilation is the next largest consumer of electrical power. This electrical energy is used to move vast amounts of air throughout the mine as well as the energy required to cool and heat the air.
New sources of clean energy are being pursued for suitability, robustness, and scalability while mines transition from a diesel to an electric mobile fleet. At the same time, the current electrical grid will need to be upgraded to accommodate the extra demand for electrical power. An all-electric fleet will eliminate in-shift tail-gas emissions of CO and NO2 gases but consideration must be placed on blast gas clearance, dust, and heat removal to take advantage of lower potential ventilation requirements. Recent lithium-ion battery fires underground pose a significant risk and challenge due to the extremely high temperatures, smoke, and toxic gases that are emitted during these thermal runaway events.
What is the path forward for underground mines today?
What are the results of this investment?
What are the major considerations and potential pitfalls?