Fuel Farms

Emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies may be set to change the way Aus­tralian mines are pow­ered, but diesel fuel and large-scale fuel farms are likely to re­main key to many oper­a­tions for years to come.

The Australian Mining Review - - NEWS - AMY BLOM

RE­NEW­ABLE en­ergy and the con­cept of the elec­tric mine have been touted as among the big­gest changes ahead in min­ing, and while many min­ers have be­gun to adopt these tech­nolo­gies, re­searchers were also look­ing to diesel-pow­ered au­to­ma­tion that could change tra­di­tional fuel farms.

The re­mote na­ture of most mines meant ac­cess to re­li­able power was a chal­lenge for most, mak­ing up a large por­tion of over­heads on a mine.

To over­come this is­sue, many min­ers have de­vel­oped large-scale fuel farm fa­cil­i­ties on site.

How­ever, many Aus­tralian mines, such as Rio Tinto, were now mov­ing to au­to­mated sys­tems, in­clud­ing au­tonomous trucks, with new fu­elling tech­nolo­gies emerg­ing to fully in­te­grate au­to­ma­tion on mines.

Among the new tech­nolo­gies be­ing ex­am­ined were au­to­mated or robotic re­fu­elling, which would be per­formed by a robotic arm that would open the ve­hi­cle’s flap, un­screw the cap, pick up the fuel noz­zle and in­sert it into the tank open­ing.

This would re­move the need for any man­ual in­ter­ven­tion, free­ing up the op­er­a­tor to com­plete other tasks.

It would also make the process of re­fu­elling safer, and could in­crease pro­duc­tiv­ity and re­duce costs by al­low­ing min­ers to con­struct fu­elling sta­tions closer to oper­a­tions.

In one ex­am­ple, Roy Hill has been tri­alling an in-pit robotic re-fu­eller since 2016 to re­duce the amount of time spent go­ing to and from fu­elling sta­tions.

Speak­ing to The Aus­tralian Min­ing Re­view, Queens­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy Pro­fes­sor and Min­ing3 au­to­ma­tion pro­gram tech­nol­ogy leader Michael Mil­ford said robotic main­te­nance was also be­ing ex­am­ined.

He said au­to­ma­tion and au­to­mated re­fu­elling agri­cul­tural projects that have been un­der­taken by re­searchers at QUT could also have ap­pli­ca­tions in min­ing, given the amount of tech­no­log­i­cal crossover be­tween the two sec­tors.

“The big ap­peal of ro­bots is in dull, dirty and dan­ger­ous con­di­tions,” Pro­fes­sor Mil­ford said.

“Mine sites of­ten ful­fil two or three of those cri­te­ria si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

“Re­fu­elling is ob­vi­ously po­ten­tially quite haz­ardous, so that’s an area which is un­der ac­tive re­search in terms of au­tomat­ing it.”

Im­pact of Elec­tric

Pro­fes­sor Mil­ford said other tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments, such as the move from tra­di­tional fuel-based mines to elec­tric mines could the­o­ret­i­cally do away with the need for fuel farms al­to­gether, how­ever that was a long way from be­com­ing a re­al­ity.

“There’s this whole con­cept of the fu­ture elec­tric mine, which may or may not have peo­ple in it at all,” he said.

“I imag­ine that would have an ef­fect on the propul­sion sys­tems, be­cause if you can make a mine en­tirely elec­tric you can do away with fuel com­pletely, but that doesn’t sound like that’s any­where near on the hori­zon.

“A large in­fra­struc­ture-re­liant in­dus­try, it doesn’t just have to be min­ing, will take a long time to tran­si­tion over, and that is prob­a­bly es­pe­cially true when min­ing is filled with very large-scale ve­hi­cles.

“A lot of the move to elec­tric ve­hi­cles in other ar­eas, like con­sumer cars, has in­volved small, neat, clean, light cars, which have the kind of re­quire­ments that elec­tric nicely meet, but that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily carry over to min­ing.”

Pro­fes­sor Mil­ford said much of the tech­nol­ogy be­ing ex­am­ined and rolled-out now, was still largely de­pen­dent on diesel fuel, in­clud­ing his own re­search project, which in­volved de­vel­op­ing new tech­nolo­gies to im­prove the ca­pa­bil­ity, ef­fi­ciency, or even the cost of sys­tems such as au­tonomous po­si­tion­ing sys­tems for au­tonomous ve­hi­cles on mine sites.

The project was in part­ner­ship with Cater­pil­lar, Min­ing3, and the Queens­land Gov­ern­ment.

One ex­am­ple the team were try­ing to de­velop were sys­tems that were pri­mar­ily de­pen­dent on cam­eras as the sen­sors that would go on au­tonomous ve­hi­cles, as op­posed to tra­di­tional laser or radar-based sys­tems.

The sys­tems could be retro­fit­ted on ve­hi­cles.

“In a lot of these new au­to­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies, they’re just an au­to­ma­tion kit that gets bolted on, on top of the truck or ve­hi­cle,” Pro­fes­sor Mil­ford said.

“In that case, the un­der­ly­ing propul­sion sys­tem wouldn’t change at all.”

Case Study: Ca­dia

On the ground, min­ers such as Newcrest Min­ing have been ex­plor­ing a num­ber of in­no­va­tive ways to power mines, but chal­lenges with elec­tric and au­tonomous ve­hi­cles have meant fuel farms would still be nec­es­sary for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

In Novem­ber 2018, Newcrest an­nounced it had com­menced stud­ies on a so­lar farm for its oper­a­tions at Ca­dia, 20km south of Or­ange in NSW.

Newcrest head of in­vestor re­la­tions and me­dia Christo­pher Mait­land said en­ergy rep­re­sented about 20 per cent of Ca­dia’s op­er­at­ing costs, and given the ris­ing costs of elec­tric­ity on the east coast of Aus­tralia, the miner had deemed it pru­dent to in­vest time and money to bet­ter un­der­stand re­new­ables.

“The farm un­der study is tar­geted to sup­ply ap­prox­i­mately 5 per cent of Ca­dia’s elec­tric­ity,” Mr Mait­land told The Aus­tralian Min­ing Re­view.

How­ever, Newcrest would con­tinue op­er­at­ing fuel farms for diesel at Ca­dia and Telfer, which was in the Pilbara re­gion in WA.

Newcrest had pre­vi­ously ex­am­ined us­ing au­to­ma­tion at its mines but found it did not in­crease pro­duc­tiv­ity.

“Back in 2013, Newcrest tri­alled au­to­mated un­der­ground load­ers at its block cave mine, Ridge­way mine, just out­side of Or­ange in New South Wales,” Mr Mait­land said.

“The tri­als were tech­ni­cally suc­cess­ful, yet the au­tonomous load­ers were found to be sig­nif­i­cantly slower than manned ve­hi­cles.

“The tech­nolo­gies to au­to­mat­i­cally dig and hail at Ridge­way’s high per­form­ing manned rates, were not ad­vanced suf­fi­ciently to com­pete.

“As a re­sult, it took longer for the au­tonomous load­ers to per­form each load cy­cle than what hu­man op­er­a­tors could achieve.”

Mr Mait­land said large bat­tery elec­tric load­ers were cur­rently in de­vel­op­ment by equip­ment sup­pli­ers, with smaller bat­tery elec­tric load­ers be­com­ing avail­able now.

How­ever, com­mer­cially avail­able cable-based elec­tric load­ers were not suitable for Ca­dia’s cave lay­outs.

In­creased Safety

Aside from au­to­ma­tion and re­new­able en­ergy, fuel farms have al­ready be­come safer and more ef­fec­tive in re­cent years, with the rise of self-bunded tanks, ac­cord­ing to WA De­part­ment of Mines, In­dus­try Reg­u­la­tion and Safety direc­tor of Dan­ger­ous Goods and Pe­tro­leum Safety Ross Sti­dolph.

“In the past, the spill con­tain­ment of some above ground fuel in­stal­la­tions has not been main­tained prop­erly, re­sult­ing in poor spill con­tain­ment if there was to be a fuel spill,” Mr Sti­dolph told The Aus­tralian Min­ing Re­view.

“How­ever, the last to 10 to 15 years, has seen the in­tro­duc­tion of self-bunded tanks, tanks with in­te­grated spill con­tain­ment, into the min­ing in­dus­try.

“Use of these tanks has en­sured that spill con­tain­ment for these fuel fa­cil­i­ties are of a high stan­dard.”

He said there were cur­rently about 200 fuel stor­age de­pots in WA alone, and about half of them were in the min­ing sec­tor.


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