FEATURED ARTICLE BY MICHAEL GRIBBONS, FOR THE UNDERGROUND MINING NOVEMBER 2021 ISSUE OF THE CANADIAN MINING JOURNAL
Mining consultants and suppliers have equally advocated the energy benefits of installing a ventilation on demand (VOD) or ventilation control system (VCS) in many underground mines, but the mining industry has yet to fully embrace this technology. With the strong emphasis on reducing greenhouse gases (GHG) to slow the acceleration of global warming, progressive ESG investors are scrutinizing mining companies based upon long term sustainability while regulators are simultaneously applying carbon consumption penalties.
This article explores some of the reasons for the cautious uptake of VOD based on observations from the 150 mines we serve globally. To provide as wide a view as possible, there’s also input of 20 global mining professionals in both the ventilation and automation sector on this question.
A VOD/VCS system should not be viewed as a magic bullet to achieving the lowest possible energy input into a mine. Above all, the acute and long-term safety of the miners must not be compromised in a normal production mode as well as in an emergency state from a fire or unplanned explosion.
From a cost/benefit perspective, a 20% savings in energy is not the same as a 20% increase in production. Production trumps energy savings 100% of the time, therefore energy savings should never be the sole reason for the system. Or put another way, maximizing energy efficiency does not necessarily maximize the mine’s overall profitability.
As much as humanly possible, a ventilation system should not impede production. Mining is in a constant state of flux with levels being mined, old levels being shut down and the ongoing development of new levels.
Where to start
Before embarking on your journey, subject matter experts and ventilation consultants should prepare a potential business case with mine management that will define what success should look like, positive impacts and counterbalancing risks, and a suitable approach where the economics work.
Staged roll-out vs. all-in approach
Confidence in the system can be quickly eroded if the control system plan is implemented too quickly and one or more components fail. Successful projects often stage the ventilation system in smaller segments for early success and system confidence.