Mining the future

1 July 2022


A lower carbon world needs more copper. Also more nickel, more aluminium, more lithium, more cobalt, more rare earths ... and therefore more mining. Julian Champkin reports on the mine lifting industry’s response to the carbon-zero imperative.

Since the earliest of times mining has been a necessity, a high energy-use business and therefore a high carbon-footprint one. Global mining activities, including both metal and mineral mining, are estimated to take 6.2% of all the energy used in the world each year. (Source: Holmberg et al, Tribology International, vol 115, Nov 2017, pp 116-139). Haulage, including lifting in mines, accounts for 24% of that.

We need to increase our production of renewable zero-carbon energy. However sustainable energy, wind and solar power as just two examples, needs more metal, and more minerals, than traditional energy sources. Copper in particular is needed for anything electrical. Onshore wind farms use approximately 3.5 tons of copper for every MW of capacity.

Offshore Wind requires 26 tons of copper per turbine. Copper usage averages up to five times more in renewable energy systems than in fossil fuel or nuclear power plants.

Aluminium is also required, especially for solar power. In the most optimistic climate scenario, where renewable energy caps global warming at 1.5 degrees celsius, demand from the solar sector would account for 12.6% of total global aluminum consumption by 2040 — up from 3% in 2020. (Source: energy research consultancy Wood Mackenzie, Aug 2021.)

The situation for nickel and for mineral resources is similar

To reach the goals of the Paris Agreement – that is, to keep the global temperature rise below 2°C – would mean a quadrupling of mineral requirements for clean energy technologies by 2040.

To hit net-zero globally by 2050 would require six times more mineral inputs in 2040 than today.

So to increase our renewable energy supply we need to do much more mining – which emits large quantities of CO2.

It seems a vicious circle. To break out of it, mining needs to move to electric power, and sustainable, zero-carbon electric power at that.

In all industries, electrification and digitilisation go hand-in-hand. We reported in our December 2021 issue on mine equipment giant ABB’s Ability e-mine, a portfolio of solutions to accelerate the move towards zero-carbon mining. Since then, in February this year (2022), ABB has released a new version of its ABB Ability Performance Optimization system for hoists. It is intended to meet the need for increased digitalisation in the mining industry. The aim is for better operational analysis and insights: effective monitoring of hoist performance increases their efficiency and decreases their energy use and carbon footprint.

In the new system data is automatically collected and monitored and is put through sophisticated predictive analytics. The value of the analytics is fully realized when an expert uses them to determine the subsequent course of action. ABB’s experts, located remotely in the company’s collaborative operations centres, have dashboards that give an overview showing production shortfalls, maintenance issues, and safety hazards. Aggregating data from multiple sites all round the world and collaborating with experts in real-time helps to improve productivity and efficiency for mine hoists even further.

This global overview enables ABB to easily receive indications and drill down to any specific hoist system to see the status of all key performance indicators (KPIs) for that particular hoist.

The new version offers KPI settings for service hoist availability, hoist cycle statistics, brake caliper spring operation times, accumulator pre-charge pressure, deceleration variation, guide rope tension, creep distance and clutching time. And, in these times of cyber-ransom attacks and the like it includes cyber security assessments and solutions for protecting customer data.

Compatible with this is a product, unveiled in May that ABB is calling its next-generation mine hoist control system. ABB Ability NGX Hoist Control. based on the latest human machine interface insights.

It offers, they say, the most modern and intuitive operator interface. It is standardized, it is scalable, and its purpose again is to reduce costs and improve efficiencies, this time through standardization of control systems. Intended for greenfield sites or upgrades, it can adapt to any hoist and replace older and third-party systems.

Also, in May this year, the US Department of Labor announced the availability of $10.5m in state grant funding to support mine safety, health training, and education. It is to provide federally mandated training and retraining of miners and mine operators working at surface and underground coal and metal and nonmetal mines. Any state in which mining takes place can apply for the grant.

The importance of such training is shown by a recent case study from Konecranes. A mining manufacturer of gypsum wallboard in North America operates the world’s largest gypsum quarry. The quarry processes up to 20,000 tons of rock per day, which is extremely hard on material handling equipment.

The mine uses a fleet of 10t overhead cranes to maintain the huge transfer trucks and other mining equipment, but they had frequent problems with crane breakdowns. Operators were pulling the ropes off the drums because the loads were too heavy for the cranes, only some of which had load limiters installed. Buying higher-capacity equipment was not an economical option.

The mine began looking at outsourcing crane inspections and maintenance and chose Konecranes.

After seeing recurring damage caused by operators attempting to lift overweight loads Konecranes recommended that they implement a required crane operator safety training program.

Going back to the equipment manuals, Konecranes showed operators how to break down the trucks into elements, weighing 10 tons or less, that the equipment could properly handle.

Training showed them basic methods of calculating the weight of identified sections. Every crane operator now has to complete the crane operator safety course in order to operate a crane at the facility. According to the maintenance planner, the training has made all the difference.

The success of the operator training program in reducing equipment damage led to Konecranes gaining contracts for virtually all of the company’s crane maintenance. The mine also began purchasing new-generation Konecranes CXT cranes with variable speed bridge and trolley motions and built-in load limiting devices to replace older cranes.

ABB’s Ability Performance Optimisation system analyses performance indicators.
Konecranes offers training in mine crane use.