SOURCE: Xylem Industrial Solutions | May 31, 2022
With almost three decades of engineering experience in process, facility, system, mining, and pumping design, Ken Albaugh is a MSHA-trained and certified miner who has spent the last 15 years leading major mine dewatering projects for a wide range of mining customers and contractors. Below Ken shares his thoughts on building mine resilience through digital, smart technologies to support efficient dewatering and enhance overall productivity, reliability and sustainability.
As operational cost pressures continue to increase and water scarcity intensifies, efficient mine water management has never been more important. A reliable dewatering system is a crucial part of any mining operation and a key aspect of overall mine water management. Having worked directly in mines myself, as well as advising customers over the last 15 years, I recall many occasions when flooding, or potential flooding incidents, threatened operations.
On one occasion, a customer experienced a major water intrusion at their mine that had the potential to destroy the mine operation. Typically, 1,000 gallons per minute was being removed from the mine. Suddenly, following an overnight flooding incident, the dewatering operation was faced with pumping 10,000 gallons per minute. Partnering with the customer, our Xylem team quickly developed and installed a solution that combined turbine pumps and electrical and piping equipment, creating a holistic solution that protected the mine’s infrastructure and enabled a quick return to production. This customer continues to be one of our strongest partners today.
So, how do we counteract scenarios like this and develop a mine’s capacity to prevent or minimize potential flooding catastrophes? Integrating smart water management solutions reduces production downtime and operating costs while improving performance, safety, and the environmental impact of a mine – all of which supports long-term prosperity. Encouragingly, 2022 continues to see the growing digitalization of the mining world as operators experience the benefits of smart technologies and potential to optimize mine water management.
An operation we worked with a few years ago is a case in point. Managers of an open pit gold mine in Sonora, Mexico, planned to expand the operation after discovering additional mineral deposits. To support increased production, the mine needed an efficient water management solution that would boost pumping capacity for the mine’s process water and dewatering systems. At the same time, operators wanted to continue to protect the local environment and avoid contaminating the recovery pools with cyanide.
Working closely with Bombas y Suministros del Norte, the local Xylem distributor, Xylem engineered a system incorporating powerful pumps with smart technology. The solution incorporated Goulds Water Technology vertical turbine pumps and two 60 hp Flygt submersible dewatering pumps, paired with Aquavar IPC variable speed controllers. These pumps play an important role during heavy rainfall, pumping water from one recovery pool when it fills to a second recovery pool at the site. The Aquavar IPC ensures that all pumps operate as efficiently and consistently as possible, pumping 6,000 gallons per minute. However, the most critical equipment requires contingency planning and emergency backup. In this case, two CD150 Godwin diesel automatic self-priming pumps were installed as a backup for the Flygt submersible dewatering pumps. This provides peace of mind that, in the unlikely event of a pump failure, a solution is on hand to ensure the safety of the surrounding environment.
As this project highlights, our mining customers take their environmental responsibilities seriously. As well as securing the safety of the surrounding ecosystem by ensuring the cyanide used to extract mineral ore did not leach into the recovery pools, our solution enhanced the productivity of the operation. Smart mine water management makes sense on many levels.
To give another example, we worked with a copper mining customer that required a powerful dewatering solution that could be operated remotely. The discovery of more copper deeper down in the mine, and the impending rainy season, meant a system was needed to drain water from the large open pit mine. Having reached a depth of 1,200 ft (365 m) below the surface, routing electrical power became more difficult, causing security and safety concerns. The use of explosives to dig deeper into the field presented a further safety concern.
It was important to incorporate remote monitoring & control (M&C) from a safety and efficiency perspective. We developed a solution for the customer using Godwin surface-mounted, diesel-driven pumps controlled by a remote monitoring system. The system was integrated with the mine’s internal SCADA system, maximizing ease of use and accessibility. This meant that staff could remotely start and stop the pumps, monitor capacity and fuel levels, and understand operating parameters. So, for example, the mine operators can monitor when a pump is approaching maximum capacity or control a pump flow in the event of heavy rain fall.
The past number of years during the pandemic has highlighted how useful remote monitoring equipment can be. Personnel can monitor equipment remotely, removing the need for physical site visits, enhancing site safety and freeing up resources for other critical tasks. This is particularly beneficial as mines today operate deeper beneath the earth’s surface, which can also prove to be more hazardous.
We always recommend taking a holistic approach to mine water management to optimize the entire system and maximize productivity, safety, reliability and sustainability. Examining each step in the water process system helps to get the most from assets and ensure an optimum operation, as well as making sure water dollars are working as hard as possible. The good news is that smart technologies combined with powerful pumping equipment will overcome the most complex mine water challenges.
For more tips on mine water management, download Xylem’s Holistic Mine Water Management guide xylem.com/holisticminewater
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