SOURCE: Jessy Parmar, Xylem | December 29, 2020
Findings of a recent poll carried out by Xylem highlight how water scarcity and the rising cost of water for mining processes are key concerns for miners today. When asked about their most pressing water-related issue, a majority of mine operators (63%) cite the ‘growing cost of water and sustainable water management’, almost a quarter (23%) said ‘water contamination’ and 13% said ‘access to water’. In the U.S., where some parts of the country are facing a historic drought, an estimated four billion gallons of water per day are withdrawn for mining purposes. Miners’ ‘licence to operate’ is under scrutiny and those working in the industry are keen to play their part in the global effort to protect finite, precious water sources.
Efficient and sustainable mine water management is a smart move on many levels. As well as minimizing running costs and supporting optimum production it protects the local environment, which in turn furthers the longevity of the operation. Holistic mine water management, including smart technologies, presents a powerful opportunity to unlock compelling economic benefits for mine operators while also protecting the surrounding environment and local community.Taking a holistic approach to water processes on site will enhance three key aspects of a mining operation: productivity, reliability and sustainability.
So, what does holistic mine water management mean in practical terms? Optimal water management begins with a holistic view of how mining operations use water – from sourcing to dewatering to treatment and reuse. Every step from intake to reuse is part of a process that can increase productivity and lower operating costs. By reviewing the efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability of every aspect of an operation’s water processes the system as a whole will be optimized; a system is only as efficient as each individual element.
A customized approach delivers maximum benefit. Each mine has a unique set of operating conditions so a one-size-fits-all approach is not recommended. Customized water management solutions deliver better results by minimizing production downtime, lowering operating costs, enhancing performance and safety, and minimizing environmental impact – all supporting long-term prosperity. That said, there are some universal challenges common to many mine sites that can be overcome with a holistic approach and smart technologies:
Water quality & scarcity: Remote monitoring and control with real-time continuous monitoring systems give mine operators a better understanding of water use and ensure water can be extracted from multiple sources, transported and treated at the desired pressure and quantity.
Regulatory compliance: Real-time continuous monitoring systems and pipeline integrity management monitor water quantity and quality to ensure the extraction and transport of water, and management of tailings meets regulatory standards.
Operational continuity & efficiency: Smart technologies like remote monitoring and control minimize costly, unplanned maintenance and unwanted downtime while reducing safety risks. Visibility and understanding the health of assets enables efficient scheduled maintenance, smart inventory management & reduced energy consumption.
A step-by-step guide to getting smart
So, how best to begin to incorporate smart technology into an operation? We recommend a step-by-step approach, starting small and building over time – adding layers of smart technology that ‘talk’ to each other, as the best approach. As a first step, however, we always recommend reviewing existing pumping systems to ensure these are operating as efficiently as possible. Once a strong foundation is in place – a reliable and robust mine water management system – you are ready to introduce smart, digital technologies to automate the process and move system efficiency to the next level.
Let’s look at an open pit mine in need of an efficient dewatering solution:
Step 1: Develop a customized solution using the most efficient dewatering pump to meet the head/flow requirements of the application. The pump would be paired with a variable frequency drive (VFD) to ensure optimal performance and combat varying duty conditions.
Step 2: As the mine expands and dewatering requirements increase, additional pumps may be needed. An intelligent controller is incorporated into the system enabling the customer to easily control multiple pumps via programmable logic.
Step 3: Enhance the dewatering system by adding a remote monitoring and control (M&C) solution. For isolated or inaccessible mine sites or operations where manpower is limited, remote M&C provides visibility of assets 24/7.
Embracing the smart water management opportunity
Holistic approach supports 15% production increase at aggregates plant
We have seen first-hand how mining operations can turn water management from an expense to a strategic advantage by playing smart. For example, one of the largest U.S. producers of construction aggregates decided to relocate their processing plant to facilitate increased production capacity. However, the new location was further away from the plant’s water supply. The customer needed a single source provider who could design and install a comprehensive and integrated water management system to meet all applications – wash down, dust control, wheel wash, pugmill and slurry.
Xylem designed and installed an efficient and reliable turnkey water management system incorporating a Goulds Water Technology lineshaft turbine pump with customized water tank, end suction pumps, multistage pumps and slurry pumps, that enables the plant to process 15 percent more aggregate than it could previously. Also, as the entire solution can be connected to the plant-wide SCADA system for remote, proactive monitoring and control, minimal downtime and maximum efficiency is ensured. Just one person can monitor and control the entire system which provides operational cost savings.
Inspection of critical mine discharge pipeline in an environmentally sensitive area
In Colorado, Xylem was commissioned to inspect two parallel HDPE lines used to transport heavy metal-laden mine discharge water from deep underground to a settling pond almost three miles away. The pipelines travel through environmentally sensitive habitats and along a creek as they transport the hazardous water. This was the first inspection of the 12-inch and 14-inch diameter mine discharge pipes since they were installed 20 years ago.
Our SmartBall platform is helpful for operators looking to identify leaks and confirm the alignment of buried pipelines. It is a free swimming inline inspection tool that operates without any disruption to mining operations, travelling in the pipeline with the product flow. It
identifies a leak using an acoustic sensor that listens for the sound of fluid leaving the pipeline, which makes a unique sound that is recognized by the ball. SmartBall enables targeted repairs of a pipeline and prevention of larger incidents which can lead to costly
downtime, reduced confidence levels and environmental damage.
A two-day inspection using the SmartBall platform revealed a medium size leak along one pipe in the vicinity of a nearby creek which could then be addressed through a targeted repair program. The client was so impressed with the technology that they accelerated their timeline developing a routine pipeline inspection program.
The Digital Mine
Smart mine water management technologies are sparking inspiring visions of the future and bringing concepts like the world’s first autonomous, people-free mine ever closer. New Boliden metals company which operates in the Skellefteå field of Västerbotten in northern Sweden, is in the process of digitizing their network and introducing automation into their operations by piloting smart pumping systems.
The New Boliden vision is of a mine where production continues non-stop, safety is maximized through remote control and monitoring, and the overall cost of operation is minimized. Using Xylem’s built-in smart technology within a submersible dewatering solution this vision is becoming a reality.
With exciting new developments on the horizon to add to the arsenal of powerful smart solutions already on the market, now is the time to harness the power of digital and turn mine water management from an expense to a strategic advantage.
About the author:
Jessy Parmar is a Business Development Manager for the Industrial Marketing team at Xylem, a leading global water technology company unified in a common purpose to create advanced technology solutions to the world’s water challenges. During his career Jessy has worked with mining operators throughout North America to solve challenging pumping issues. Now he focusses on helping customers develop an overall fluid management approach centered on digital solutions aimed at solving efficiency, infrastructure reliability, health and safety, and environmental sustainability challenges. Jessy is a graduate of Northern Alberta Institute of Technology where he obtained his Mechanical Engineering Technology Diploma.
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