May 17, 2020

Hydropower Taking Over Compressed Air Within Drilling Applications

underground mining techniques
underground mining
4 min
New innovations drive cost and time efficiencies
Corporations and groups throughout the mining industry continue to dig deeper into innovations that could potentially improve efficiency and cost-effect...

Corporations and groups throughout the mining industry continue to dig deeper into innovations that could potentially improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness of their drilling operations. It is also the hopes of these mining corporations and groups that these improvements and new innovations could also help them to not only weather fluctuations regarding decreased demand in some markets, but, hopefully, help them to keep pace with growing demand in others.

Among the top factors that have continuously slowed mining companies and mining technology groups from not just developing these mining drilling operations, but actually bringing them to market for actual mining applications is safety. Mining operations pose extreme working condition and require an immense degree of dependable and stringent safety standards that must be upheld.

This is one reason why compressed air has been a very important source of power in virtually every type of mine for many years now. Compressed air continues to be applied to drilling in the mining sector as a source of power for drilling holes for blasting in underground mining. Not only that, but compressed air has also remained a go-to source of power for its flexible use with a variety of other applications both inside and outside the mines. For example, mucking machines, scraper-hoists and ventilation fans represent a few of the areas of application that take advantage of compressed air.

Up until recent history, compressed air has not just been the most popular choice for powering drilling and other applications throughout the mining industry, it has also been viewed as virtually the only true option. However, recent developments in mining technology now point to hydropower equipment as a much stronger, potentially viable alternative to compressed air. While hydropower in and of itself has been around for a significant amount of time, innovations regarding its application throughout the mining industry present some undeniable benefits well worth looking into for both small and large mining corporations.

“The biggest combined force driving the adoption of hydropower equipment in the underground mining industry – specifically in gold and platinum mines – is the need to move away from using compressed air and an understanding by industry that it must do so,” says hydropower specialist Hydro Power Equipment (HPE) Innovation Manager Peter Fraser.

When compared to using compressed air in mining operations, Fraser points out a few key, unique advantages that the use of hydropower can deliver. “Hydropower equipment is energy efficient because of the intrinsic efficiency of the positive displacement of water hydraulics and the absence of leaks. It also has lower operating costs, as localized hydropower systems feeding a local network of small bore pipes on a half-level stope are noted as the lowest cost method to power all the operations required for conventional mining,” Fraser says. “Hydropower drilling has higher penetration rates than compressed air drilling, which allows for a quicker task and, subsequently, a reduction in the risk of a lost blast and of unnecessary exposure time of drill operators on the face. Compliance with noise and other environ-mental requirements is yet another driving factor behind the adoption of hydropower in the platinum and gold mining industry,” he adds.

Fraser goes on to explain that hydropowered drilling rigs have achieved mainstream acceptance in man-free box-hole development and in flat-end development and hydro stoping, which uses either centralized or localized hydro systems. Other applications for hydropower in underground platinum mines include the establishment of hydropowered box-hole chutes, roof bolting and stope cleaning. What’s helping spread the application of hydropower is that small and large mining operations alike can take advantage, leaving behind the inefficiencies of compressed air. “For example, a new section in the mine could be developed as a stand-alone localized hydropower operation, while the compressed-air operation can be maintained for the existing operation,” Fraser says.

Recent, innovative developments of hydropower include more accurate and truer drilling. Among the many benefits offered by this is the quicker and safer development of box holes. Reef boring and long-hole stoping mining methods and equipment have seen significant improvements from hydropower applications as well. These developments have also led to less dilution of ore while improving the safety of miners having to enter stopes.

With immense benefits such as long straight holes, low energy consumption, and an oil-mist and dust-free working environment, we can likely expect a continued rise in the application of hydropower drilling throughout the mining industry. 

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Jun 30, 2021

Rio Tinto and Alcoa begin construction with ELYSIS tech

Rio Tinto
3 min
Rio Tinto and Alcoa’s JV project ELYSIS has the potential to transform the aluminium industry, with a significant reduction in its carbon footprint

Eliminating all direct greenhouse gases from aluminium smelting has taken a major step forward with the start of construction on the first commercial-scale prototype cells of ELYSIS’ inert anode technology, at Rio Tinto’s Alma smelter in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec.

ELYSIS has the potential to reduce the carbon footprint of aluminium production

ELYSIS is a joint venture company led by Rio Tinto and Alcoa that is developing a new breakthrough technology, known as inert anode, that eliminates all direct greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the traditional smelting process and instead produces oxygen.

The technology has the potential to transform the aluminium industry, with a significant reduction in its carbon footprint.

The inert anode prototype cells will operate on a commercial scale typical for large modern aluminium smelters, using an electrical current of 450 kiloamperes (kA).

The Honourable Francois-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry joined representatives from ELYSIS, Rio Tinto and Alcoa to mark the start of construction and announce a further CAD $20mn financial contribution from the Government of Canada to support the project.

The federal government's financial support will enable the creation of a unique commercial size inert anode technology showroom for future customers and will help develop the supply chain by involving local and regional equipment manufacturers and suppliers in the project.

ELYSIS is working to complete the technology demonstration by 2024 followed by the commercialization activities.

ELYSIS technology at a glance:

  • The ELYSIS technology addresses the global trend towards producing low carbon footprint products, from mobile phones to cars, planes and building materials.
  • The new process will reduce operating costs ofaluminiumsmelters while increasing production capacity. It could be used in both new and existing aluminium smelters.
  • In Canada alone, the ELYSIS technology has the potential to reduce GHG emissions by 7 million tons, the equivalent of removing 1.8 million cars from the roads.
  • ELYSIS will also sell next-generation anode and cathode materials, which will last more than 30 times longer than traditional components.

Alcoa and Rio Tinto will continue to support the ELYSIS development program alongside the Governments of Canada and Quebec.

ELYSIS is working closely with Alcoa's Technical Center, where the zero-carbon smelting technology was invented, and the Rio Tinto technology design team in France.

Alcoa's Technical Center supports ELYSIS in the manufacture of proprietary materials for the new anodes and cathodes that are essential to the ELYSIS process. The Rio Tinto technology team in France is creating commercial scale designs for the ELYSIS technology.


Vincent Christ, CEO, ELYSIS commented: “This is a great day for ELYSIS. It means that we are becoming the first technology company in the world to build commercial-size inert anode cells. While we refine the technology in our R&D Centre, we start the construction of our prototype cells. This shows our confidence in our process and in the know-how of our team. The combination of ELYSIS' zero CO2 technology and Quebec's renewable energy will be great competitive advantage for the future. I would like to thank the government for its support and all the partners for their commitment.”

Samir Cairae, Rio Tinto Aluminium managing director Atlantic Operations and ELYSIS board member added: “Today marks a real step towards the future of the aluminium industry, by progressing this breakthrough technology to cut carbon emissions. Rio Tinto is committed to supporting its ongoing development here in Quebec where we already use clean hydropower to deliver some of the world’s lowest carbon aluminium. Combining this technology with renewable hydropower holds the promise of zero carbon aluminium smelting.”

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