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Aggreko makes its cooling case to underground miners
As mines go deeper in search of new or extending orebodies to keep up production levels, the need for cost effective and scalable mine cooling is increasing.
Traditionally miners would address such needs with the commissioning of a refrigeration plant that came with fixed infrastructure and a fixed capacity.
These plants, which tend to come with significant capital outlays, deliver cooled air to the areas of a mine in need. The problem came when the mine plan changed, the cooled ventilation needs adapted and cooled air requirements rose.
Twenty years ago, Aggreko provided the Australian market with an alternative: a modular mine cooling solution that could adapt to the changing environment that comes with operating an underground mine and was available as a rental option.
The company has, once again, listened to the market, recently launching its latest modular bulk air coolers (BACs).
These 40 ft (12.19 m) mobile BAC10000 coolers come with three times the cooling capacity of Aggreko’s previous largest offering – the 20 ft long BACs.
Aggreko Underground Cooling Sector Manager, Mitch Bevan, says the company is trying to challenge market conventions with the launch of this new product.
“Historically there is a perception in the market with larger capacity refrigeration plants (say over 5 MW) that long-life mines are better off purchasing equipment rather than renting,” he says. “We are challenging this perception by designing our equipment for larger installations. Combining this with our services, which come as standard, makes this rental option a very viable long-term solution for mines.”
A “unique” proposition in the market, according to Aggreko, the BAC10000s come with direct contact bulk air cooling, instead of a non-direct contact air handling unit (which are more typical in the rental market), due to the improved thermal efficiencies and air cleaning benefits of the BAC, Bevan adds.
Aggreko has delivered more than 50 mine cooling projects globally, and always draws on the experience of its engineering, procurement, construction and maintenance teams to stay at the forefront of technology, it says.
This has seen Aggreko provide SCADA installations alongside its cooling plant.
“This SCADA system integrates into the mine’s operating system for full visibility of the plant performance, and can be designed to provide real-time data,” Bevan says. “The information received from the SCADA system can be used both to ensure the plant is performing to design, and also to optimise it.”
Servicing and maintenance of the plant are included as standard.
There are several mines in Australia to have taken up a cooling rental option from Aggreko, with 29Metals’ Golden Grove copper-zinc-precious metals mine in Western Australia having successfully incorporated the BAC10000s into its underground expansion.
The company, realising its permanent cooling plant would require close to a year of work to up-scale to this new cooling demand, chose the Aggreko BAC10000s to ensure it could expand the operation, taking delivery of the cooling towers in the summer of 2020/2021.
Bevan says the CSA Cobar mine in New South Wales and Gold Fields’ Agnew gold mine have also deployed the BAC10000s.
“Our intent is to specifically target long-period operations, while they (the BAC10000s) will also assist us with other applications,” Bevan says. “The larger BACs provide improved performance and practicality on larger capacity refrigeration plants. Combining this with standard services, we can present a very cost-effective long-term cooling option for mines.”
Hiring an Aggreko rental plant mitigates all the risks that come with purchasing a capital plant, according to Bevan, such as:
- Depreciation of asset;
- What to do with the asset if requirements change, or the plant is no longer needed;
- Cost and responsibility (ie utilisation of mine resources) of unexpected maintenance/failure. What to do when the plant is down?;
- Requirement to upgrade technology over time;
- Responsibility to maintain;
- Responsibility for water treatment (high safety risk and risk to equipment life if it is not done properly or monitored carefully); and
- Responsibility to monitor and optimise plant (site engineering resources or expensive consultants).
The value proposition is also translating overseas, with Aggreko already having BAC10000s plants on hire in Spain, with another being mobilised in Portugal.
This is by no means the end to Aggreko’s mine cooling offering expansion, with the company focused on adding to its services to eventually assist clients with a complete turnkey solution.
This cooling expertise, in addition to site-wide power solution experience incorporating renewables and other low-carbon sources, will be highly sought after by miners looking for more sustainable solutions for their mine sites.
“We are looking to combine our renewables offering to supplement our cooling plants,” Bevan says. “Cooling plants have a variable load, as how hard they run depends on the ambient temperature (ie runs hard when it’s hot, eases off when it cools) and renewable energy options, particularly solar, could partner well with this energy demand.”