Ventilation control delivers dramatic cost reduction

Howden was invited to design and implement a ventilation control system that would optimise the supply of fresh air to underground workers while reducing energy consumption and operating costs.

The Goldcorp Éléonore gold mine in Canada is owned and operated by Goldcorp mining company. They worked in partnership with Howden to introduce radically new VentSim™ CONTROL technologies that brought impressive cost and energy savings while also raising productivity.

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Goldcorp Eleonore

The challenge

In most underground mines, the largest consumer of energy is the ventilation system. Vital for providing essential fresh air to miners, ventilation systems have traditionally been very static; fans are set to run continuously 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. As well as preventing the build-up of dangerous levels of diesel equipment gases (CO, NOx) and diesel particulate matters (DPM) underground, they also evacuate respirable dust and the noxious gases associated with extracting ore and other waste chemicals.

The Goldcorp Éléonore gold mine has a fresh air capacity of more than 900 kcfm (425 m3/s). The principal ventilation system consists of two Howden Alphair 12300-AMF-6600 exhaust axial fans with a nominal power of 2,000 HP (1,471 KWh) each, configured in parallel. There is also an exploration shaft that has two Howden Alphair 11200-AMF-6600 main intake fans with a nominal power of 750 HP (551.62 KWh), again configured in parallel. The mine also has over 140 auxiliary and booster fans operated in conjunction with seven dampers and air regulators, and a heating system fuelled by propane.

Goldcorp commissioned us to provide them with a control system that would provide safe, efficient ventilation while reducing energy demands and costs.

The solution

We set out to create an automated system covering all the ventilation equipment in the Éléonore mine, including the main fans, underground auxiliary fans and airflow regulators. 30 Ventilation Monitoring Stations (VMS) were installed to determine the quantity and quality of fresh air at various points underground. Each VMS includes one flow sensor and three gas sensors, to detect CO, NOx and C3H8, and is an integral part of the VentSim™ CONTROL system.

A mine-wide tracking system was installed to detect the presence of vehicles and personnel underground. Each of the 144 vehicles was fitted with a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag that indicates its position in the mine and whether the engine is operating. Everyone working underground was also given a unique RFID tag that connects to one of 254 zonebased Access Points.

The tracking data is transmitted from these Access Points to the control room on the surface through a hybrid fiber optic network. There is currently between 60% and 70% wifi coverage in the mine, with plans for 100% coverage during full production. The data from the RFID tags provides enhanced safety and management of the movement of vehicles and personnel, as well as Ventilation on Demand (VOD).

The data from the tracking system allows ventilation requirements for each zone to be calculated by the VOD logic software. This information is then used to automatically modify the speed of each of 140 underground auxiliary fans, to ensure that each zone of the mine receives enough fresh air.

The control system in the Éléonore mine can be easily expanded as the mine grows in size, to maintain adequate, safe ventilation in every part of the workings as new areas and levels are opened up.


The outcome

The installation of the VentSim™ CONTROL system, with its Ventilation Monitoring Stations and automation of all ventilation equipment, means that the supply of fresh air to individual work zones is maintained with complete safety, ensuring all underground personnel have a comfortable working environment. At the same time, the waste associated with continual ventilation of the whole mine has been eliminated.

As a result, there have been marked benefits in production and sustainability as well as safety. To quantify some of these benefits, an energy saving analysis was carried out.

The investigation covered energy consumption in the underground auxiliary fans and the main intake and exhaust fans, as well as the volume of propane used in heating the mine.

To date, there has been a 43% reduction in mine heating costs, a drop of 56% in underground ventilation electricity costs and a remarkable 73% decrease in the cost of surface ventilation electricity, as detailed in the full case study pdf. While these figures are impressive, the full potential savings will grow even greater when the mine reaches full capacity.

Eleonore primary exhaust fan by Alphair

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