In mines across Canada and around the world, ventilation is one of the biggest sources of energy consumption, consuming as much as 70 percent of the total power needed to run a mine. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Marc Boudreau, President and Co-CEO of BESTECH, explains how his company’s energy management system is offering mine operators a smarter way to control their ventilation systems.
For miners working deep underground, having a clean air supply is vital. Yet ensuring proper airflow throughout a mine can be a challenging—and costly—endeavour.
A lot of air has to be pumped underground to get rid of the emissions produced by mining equipment. Blasting rock creates harmful gases that need to be cleared away before miners can go in and do their work. The problem is that many mines run their ventilation systems full blast, 24 hours a day, even when it’s not necessary—and that consumes a whole lot of energy.
BESTECH has developed technology that ensures the right amount of ventilation is sent where and when it is needed. And by turning down the ventilation when it’s not required, our solution can help reduce a mine’s overall power consumption by 15 to 20 percent.
How it works
The NRG1-ECO energy management system lets mine operators remotely monitor and control fans, compressors, pumps and other equipment. Through our ventilation control system, they can use radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags attached to workers and equipment to detect when activity is taking place in a specific mining zone, activating ventilation systems only when required. A web interface also allows ventilation devices to be programmed for certain times of the day or according to user-defined events.
Sensors and RFID tags tell the NRG1-ECO server where miners are located, activating each zone’s ventilation system only when necessary.
Our solution also monitors environmental conditions to ensure the people working underground have good, clean air. The system can be integrated with sensors to monitor things like airflow, temperature, humidity, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide. Ventilation is then automatically adjusted to maintain the mine’s air quality—making the workplace safer for mine employees.
Our technology helps mine operators better control their energy. And by helping them reduce their total energy requirements, we’re also helping reduce the environmental impacts associated with generating electricity, such as greenhouse gas emissions.
As an example, we demonstrated NRG1-ECO across five levels of the Coleman Mine in Sudbury. We saw electricity consumption cut by 4.4 MW-h, which adds up to $375,000 in savings per year. And by easing the burden on the power grid, greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by an estimated 780 tonnes. If these results were replicated across an entire mine, our technology could help operators save as much as $3 million annually.
Because our technology is still young, a big challenge we face is what’s called ‘change management’. With NRG1-ECO, the way mine operators use their existing ventilation systems will drastically change because employees and equipment can be located within the mines. That can make people cautious, leading to questions like, “What are you doing with my information? Why are you tracking me all over the mine?” These are fair questions—and they can be answered directly through effective change-management policies and proper education of the performance and benefits of the solution.
Also, mining isn’t just a Canadian industry. It’s a global sector that uses technology made by countless manufacturers worldwide. Fortunately, our system is based on an open platform, meaning it can be integrated with practically any technology used underground. That means we can help mine operators everywhere realize significant energy savings—and help make our world a cleaner, more sustainable place for future generations.