David Cheeseman*, Chief Engineer of Oxair Gas Systems, believes the mining industry should take on board the latest on-site gas generation technology to help improve safety and reduce its carbon footprint.
The mining industry is becoming a lot more technology-focused, with advancements in autonomous mining technology and automated surface vehicles, as the industry presses ahead to reduce carbon emissions and boost safety in mining.
The International Council on Mining & Metals’ (ICMM) Innovation for Cleaner, Safer Vehicles (ICSV) initiative – a supply chain collaboration with original equipment manufacturers (OEM) – is to be applauded. However, in the meantime, rugged terrain will still be taking its toll on the tyres of mining vehicles, which are the workhorses of the extraction process.
These trucks operate in harsh environments and extremes of temperatures, which is why nitrogen-filled tyres are ideal, because they remain inflated for longer and are more resistant to hot climates and freezing at high altitudes, making them safer for operators and site staff alike. Unlike compressed air, nitrogen is an inert gas that does not react with other materials, so it is resistant to corrosion and, therefore, provides an extra tier of safety where critical applications are involved.
It is imperative that tyres are fully inflated to reduce the risk of critical air leaks and rapid deflation when the vehicles are under pressure. But being at the mercy of the supply chain for bottled nitrogen, especially in extreme locations where conditions are challenging, is costly. Nitrogen can be difficult to transport, not to mention the additional carbon footprint of delivery vehicles and safety risks for staff manually moving cylinders from one place to another, especially with the new threat of contamination posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
However, companies can avoid the hassle of having to outsource their gas from conventional cylinders by switching to an on-tap supply through a nitrogen generator. A nitrogen generator on site is the ideal alternative choice to manhandling canisters for heavy-duty equipment where precise or constant pressure is vital.
Oxair’s nitrogen generators are efficient and compact, making them an ideal solution for mining sites. They offer a continuous flow of gas extracted from the atmosphere and are an environmentally friendlier method of delivery, as they reduce the carbon footprint associated with having
cylinders transported from an off-site facility and then the return journey when they are empty.
Nitrogen generators are cheap to run and, once installed, require minimal maintenance. Nitrogen plants are built to last and are operator friendly, making them crucial where tyres need to perform well in a remote location or challenging environment.
As with all high-quality engineering solutions, nitrogen generators can be tailored exactly to suit an individual mine’s requirements. They can be designed for outdoor or covered facilities and, as well as offering low energy consumption, a supplier should be able to provide on-site training to enable local employees to properly calibrate and easily maintain the system once it is operational, as well as full ongoing maintenance support.
Some of the world’s leading gold mining companies are already seeing the benefits of gas on tap at sites rather than taking deliveries of traditional cylinders. Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) oxygen equipment supplied by Oxair is helping AngloGold Ashanti extract more of the precious metal from one of its flagship gold mines, potentially extending the life of the open-pit operation in Tanzania.
Two booster processors for increasing oxygen pressure and two oxygen generator tonnage plants to further improve the efficiency of the leaching process are in operation at AngloGold’s Geita Gold Mine, enhancing gold recoveries and protecting the environment by reducing cyanide consumption.
This equipment is helping to increase production and extend the mine’s lifespan beyond 2025, when it was originally set for closure. The state-of-the-art equipment supplied, which includes upgraded control systems, will double the reliable source of pure oxygen for the future activities planned at Geita. It will mean significant efficiencies in carbon in the leach technology method of gold recovery and should help the mine be both economically and environmentally sound for its extended lifespan.
Using oxygen generators significantly improves the gold dissolution process through adding highly purified oxygen at the slurry stage of leaching. Mined rock is usually ground up and turned into a slurry by adding lime, cyanide, oxygen and water before being fed through a carbon bed to extract the gold. Incorporating highly purified oxygen allows cyanide to work more efficiently and, thus, reduces the quantity of cyanide needed in the process.
A PSA tonnage plant takes oxygen directly from the air using on average of only 3 kW of electricity per 100 cu.ft of oxygen produced and transforms it into highly purified oxygen by removing nitrogen entrainments (which are useless to the leaching process).
Oxygen tonnage plants are designed for on-site applications requiring large amounts of oxygen, such as mining, with outdoor or covered standard installations – PSA equipment is bringing numerous advantages to the mining industry, as well as eliminating the need for expensive and unreliable deliveries of liquid or cylinder oxygen.
On-site generators provide mines with a turnkey solution for getting a constant, reliable source of high-quality oxygen and nitrogen where it is needed. It is clear that with responsible mining practices geared up for long-term sustainability, investments in quality equipment will be key to achieving both safety and sustainability goals.
*This piece was written by David Cheeseman, Chief Engineer of Oxair Gas Systems. Oxair is an ISO 9001 certified company focused on the design and manufacture of packaged oxygen PSA Systems, as well as Nitrogen PSA systems up to 1,000 Nm3/h.