Power quality in mining productivity
The mining sector is fundamental to the growth of the global economy. For example, the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) predicts that for every job created in mining, a further two to five are created in other sectors. As many economies and jobs depend of this industry, engineers should consider how to remove any risks to productivity. Here Juan Chavez, vice president of Energy Control Systems, explores the role of power quality in mining productivity.
Most mines across the world are located in areas with harsh climates and engineers must operate in inhospitable conditions — from heavy rain and storms to high temperatures and drought. Engineers adapt processes to avoid disruption to operations and continue to provide resources and economic support. Mines often introduce more advanced technology to the site to increase this uptime. However, more equipment on site means more opportunities for breakdowns that can jeopardise productivity.
Every process in mining, from drilling and excavation to transportation and processing requires a complex network of electrical equipment. Whether it’s shuttle lines transporting the extracted materials, motors and variable speed drives or the lighting, heating and ventilation systems, there are a variety of electrical loads in operation. As well as this vital equipment, plant managers are introducing safety systems, control systems, devices that increase connectivity and more to increase efficiency.
To protect this equipment, most maintenance engineers rely on devices such as surge protection devices (SPDs), lightning protection equipment and harmonic filters that address common power issues. However, we believe that these devices do not have the capability to protect from every power quality issue that could be causing downtime in a facility.
Small but mighty
Poor power quality is one of the main causes of costly downtime that engineers must prevent by investing in surge protection. Poor electrical grid infrastructure can cause issues such as intermittent supply or blackouts that interrupt the flow of electricity travelling to the facility. Mineral mines are also located far from cities and at high altitudes, such as those in the Andes in South America, increasing the likelihood of power fluctuations impacting supply.
However, engineers often approach us because downtime still occurs after installing SPDs. That’s because traditional surge protection systems will only detect voltage spikes that exceed the highest and lowest parts of the sine wave. Once detected, the system will eliminate the excess voltage, leaving residual transients that can still damage equipment.
One short, transient surge will often go unnoticed and will not lead to downtime. Yet, regular false-zero crossings from transient surges will cause microprocessors to trigger prematurely. Over time, this leads to software confusion and engineers will begin to see reductions in performance of computers, control systems and other sensitive equipment.
Until recently, these transient events were not a concern, because older microprocessors ran at very slow speeds. However, microprocessors found in sensitive equipment now run at gigahertz speeds on millivolt chips, so the smallest disturbances will eventually damage computer chips, leading to potential data losses and lapses in productivity.
How SineTamer helps
We developed to help eliminate false zero crossings and voltage spikes that traditional equipment cannot detect. SineTamer protects from all forms of transient events more accurately by following the curve of the sine wave. The units then eliminate any fluctuations to fundamental frequency that could impact microprocessors.
Mining continues to be essential to employment and economic growth across the world, so, engineers must do all that they can to maintain productivity. Preparing for unpredictable and harsh weather conditions is vital to keeping the industry running, but engineers should also look inside the facility. While regular transient surges may seem small compared with a storm or flood, if inappropriately managed, they could be the cause of significant disruption and damage.
Battery-powered future depends on a few crucial metals
In the big, exciting future that’s measured in kilowatt- and gigawatt-hours, batteries are enabling mass electrification across many sectors. The rapid decline in battery prices has ensured burgeoning interest from electric-vehicle makers and consumer-electronics manufacturers- even from the energy industry, for enormous stationary storage systems operating on the power grid.
Companies such as QuantumScape Corp. are developing next-generation batteries that could accelerate the transition. The field is so competitive that the industry is shrouded in secrecy, but the market still values the company at more than $16bn despite no promise of real revenue for many years to come.
It will be years before any battery breakthroughs reach the mass market. But it’s already virtually certain that rising demand for existing lithium-ion batteries will be exponential and can be matched by manufacturers only if the materials used to make batteries - primarily lithium, cobalt , and nickel - are also supplied adequately. These curves will become steeper in the decade ahead. Take a look at the charts below that show where things are headed.
Electrification has become a key theme for automakers in the US and Europe. While it was barely mentioned a decade ago, company executives are increasingly talking up batteries and electric vehicles to investors.
The rapid decline of battery costs over the past decade has surprised even the most optimistic analysts. That has played a crucial role in opening up new markets for batteries to find applications.
Electric cars will be the biggest force behind the boom in demand for batteries this decade. But batteries will also increasingly be used for smaller vehicles like scooters, commercial vehicles and to store electricity from the grid.
The decline in battery prices have helped grow the investment case for storing electricity. Companies and financial firms are now investing over $100 billion a year on energy storage and the electrification of transportation.
All the energy stored in a growing number of batteries will require a significant increase in a few key metals, lithium, cobalt and nickel.
(By Will Mathis and Akshat Rathi)