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  • Realizing Energy and Water Efficiencies in Mining Operations

Mining industry, Workers by excavation machinery in Spain
Integrating production, energy, and water data gives mining companies a layer of “energy intelligence” and holistic insight into energy-saving opportunities.

Extracting and refining ore is an extremely energy-intensive process. Energy can account for up to 40% of a mining company’s operational expenses. Identifying opportunities to reduce consumption of energy has become increasingly important, from both a financial and sustainability standpoint. A mining company that improves energy efficiency is more often than not a successful mining company.

Combining energy and production data

One of the biggest barriers to identifying energy inefficiencies is that companies do not have sufficient information to make decisions to reduce energy. Meters and energy management software monitor, visualize, and report on operational energy consumption and provide information around energy quality. This data enables automation systems to make better energy-related decisions and set process variables based on the information gathered. But that is only part of the equation. Companies also need production information on what is actually happening in the plant. Mining production systems do collect information on downtime and production figures, but they usually ignore the energy question altogether.

More useful information can be obtained from the integration of mining production systems and energy management systems (EMS). Combining data on downtime and production that is already being captured automatically in the mining production system with data on energy use (in the EMS) provides information in context so that operators know when equipment is consuming too much energy and by how much. For example, say a mill’s energy use spikes by over 10% with the same throughput. Production data would provide context for the energy-use data. Together, the data forms a layer of energy intelligence that gives personnel a holistic view of energy-saving opportunities.

Integrating water management data

Water is a key issue for most mining operations. The availability and use of water has a profound effect on the triple bottom line (financial, environmental, and social performance). Future mining operations will increasingly be located in geographical areas where water is scarce. Lower-grade deposits require more intense processing, which means more water is used. More stringent regulations and heightened demands for sustainability extend the need to monitor and control water throughout the entire mine life cycle, from “pit to port.”

The mining water cycle is complex, and managing water requires a holistic, integrated approach. However, mining and processing systems often remain disconnected to water management systems. A more optimized approach monitors water balance, water usage, and quality of water through field data captured by the mine operations management system. An integrated system aggregates real-time data from various software programs, modeling/simulation tools, and instrumentation to provide a complete picture of water supply, usage, and quality across the entire mining supply chain. Analytics place water data in the context of production data, so that operators get actionable intelligence regarding their water supply and demand. The lack of such insight can have enormous repercussions, as several large mining operations have been forced into unplanned downtime because they lacked sufficient information about water availability.

Maintenance can be 30–50% of a mine’s total operating expenses. Find out how to reduce these costs in the next article in this series, “Improving Mining Asset Performance with Predictive Analytics.”
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