Mining is a demanding, essential industry that digs for metals and ores that are transformed into products and equipment we rely on daily. Miners depend on reliable and efficient equipment to ensure they can get the work done. Air compressors have become a staple of mining, improving the production and consistency of the mining process.
The use of air compressors in mining is widespread — they assist at every level of the process. The mining industry has found many air compressor uses, which have made the process safer and more effective. This article discusses the use of compressors in mining and how to keep this equipment functioning at top efficiency for the best performance and savings.
In This Article
- Utilizing Air Compressors in the Mining Industry
- Functions of Air Compressors in the Mining Industry
- Low-Pressure Blowers in the Mining Industry
- Potential Issues for Compressed Air Efficiency
- Energy Efficiency in Air Compressors Used in Mining
- Contact Fluid Aire Dynamics for Compressed Air Systems
Utilizing Air Compressors in the Mining Industry
The global mining industry is one of the world’s largest. With a revenue of $925 billion, mining is an enormous industry that uses a wide variety of techniques and equipment for its processes. Extracting valuable resources from the ground takes extensive surface and underground operations to ensure maximum return and success.
Mines can be miles long. Mining requires deep underground tunnels for drawing minerals and resources from the earth without losing efficiency or compromising safety. Working in the mining industry comes with many dangers, so using reliable, high-performing equipment is essential. Air compressors are used in mining as sources of power for ventilation systems, material conveyors, pneumatic tools, piling machinery and power drilling.
The use of compressors in mining extends to above- and below-ground processes. Underground compressors can help reduce leakage and the presence of complicated piping systems. On the surface, compressors reticulate compressed air through steel pipes. Compressed air is also an excellent power source for mining due to its flexibility. An air compressor is a valuable tool for any company when properly designed, grounded and maintained.
Compressed air is also preferred for mining due to its adaptable and convenient nature. Air compressors work well for many different mining processes and can withstand the harsh wear and tear of mining. They are consistent, efficient and have relatively low part replacement costs.
Air compressors do require grounding and static prevention to avoid fire hazards. These fire dangers can be mitigated with anti-static and fire retardant materials, keeping worksites safe and operational.
Functions of Air Compressors in the Mining Industry
In mining, air compressors are central to the entire process. Compressed air can provide power, clean air, ventilation and more to mining operations, creating safer, more efficient processes. From the exploration of potential sites to ore refining, air compressors help provide necessary power and air to the worksite. Some functions of air compressor in mining include:
- Blasting: The mining industry uses controlled explosives to break up rocks and other strong materials. Compressed air provides high-velocity streams that help set off explosives safely.
- Ventilation systems: Miners need sufficient amounts of safe, breathable air while working underground. Compressed air can supply them with ventilation deep underground so they can breathe. In case of emergencies, compressors also bring clean, safe air into refuge bays so miners can seek breathable shelter.
- Drilling: Compressed air is used to power a rotating drill bit, penetrating the firm ground and providing access to its minerals.
- Smelting and refining: Smelting and refining heats and extracts metal from ores to get the most usable metals out of the raw materials. Smelting and processing plants nearby the mining operation will use air compressors throughout this process. Additionally, the refining process uses compressed air to reduce material waste by oxidizing additional alloys.
- Cleaning: Compressed air is excellent at removing particles from filters and keeping unwanted particulates out. As a clean source of air, compressed air can help keep equipment and materials free from dirt and debris. With less buildup causing mechanical issues and failures, operations improve efficiency, reduce downtime and keep everything in top condition for longer.
- Instruments and tools: Pneumatic tools need dry, clean air to function correctly for mining operations. Air compressors deliver this air to mining tools and devices so they can work without electricity. Compressors can power wrenches, hack saws and drills for consistent, safe underground mining.
- Methane gas extraction: If methane gas builds up in a mine, it can be lethal. Methane can increase the risk of static sparks and breathing problems. With proper construction and safety design, air compressors can use vacuum pumps and blowers to help extract methane gas.
- Spargers: These pipes sit at the bottom of tanks, carrying compressed air in. With small pores, the pipes distribute bubbles evenly throughout the tank.
- Handling material: Some materials, like coal dust, are easier to handle when mixed with compressed air through fluidization. It can also convey mining material for more effortless movement.
Low-Pressure Blowers in the Mining Industry
Low-pressure blowers are another use for air in mining. Large flows of low-pressure air can help maximize the efficiency of the mine while maintaining reliable, safe conditions. Some methods that use low-pressure blowers include:
- 24/7 wastewater treatment: Wastewater must be treated before returning to the surrounding area. This helps protect the environment from some of the effects of mining. With many mining operations occurring in locations with limited water source access, this wastewater treatment cannot fail or be compromised. Low-pressure blowers are a reliable system that helps reduce the chances of any equipment malfunction or failure.
- 24/7 flotation cells: Flotation cells, also called froth flotation, are used while processing metals like chrome, copper, lead, aluminum, zinc, platinum and gold. A steady stream of low-pressure air is incorporated to create the froth that assists in separating these minerals from the slurry.
- 24/7 heap leaching: This is a chemical process that helps dissolve minerals from ore. The low-pressure air blows through the leaching pad, enhancing the procedure for improved results. The exact process varies depending on the ore and its concentration, but low-pressure air is essential to separate the ore and minerals.
- Material handling: Coal dust and other small materials require safe and careful handling. Low-pressure air assists in this handling through two processes. Low-pressure air helps convey material along the mining process. It also assists in fluidization, the mixing of fine materials with compressed air.
Along with these processes, low-pressure blowers bring clean air to material leaching. Activated carbon is essential to the leaching process, adsorbing dissolved gold from the pulp complex. However, activated carbon is easily fouled with inorganic and organic matter. When contaminated, the activated carbon adsorbs material other than gold, polluting the material and reducing the carbon’s adsorbing efficiency. Clean, dry air provided by low-pressure blowers keeps potentially fouling materials out of the process.
Low-pressure blowers bring clean air to essential mining processes, ensuring the efficiency and safety of the operation. Without low-pressure air, many mining transportation, treatment and chemical processes would also not work. Using low-pressure air offers a safe, reliable solution for many of these mining applications and produces excellent, high-quality results.
Potential Issues for Compressed Air Efficiency
Compressed air is necessary for almost all parts of the mining process and is a significant source of energy usage. In some industries, between 10%-30% of their energy consumption is compressed air. There are several areas that can create potential losses in energy efficiency, so addressing these issues is essential to reducing costs.
With compressed air running through the system constantly, leaks will pop up if given a chance. Leaks will appear in joints and weak points, causing the compressor to work harder and increasing your energy costs. As air leaks from your system, the pressure levels will fluctuate. This causes air-operated tools to work less efficiently and increases the time required to complete work.
Additionally, leaks lead to increased runtime and unnecessary cycling for the compressor. This causes the service life of your equipment to shorten and increases the required maintenance, driving up costs.
Pressure levels must be maintained to keep compressors working at maximum efficiency for the longest amount of time. If you exceed pressure limits, the system workload increases. Taking on this extra workload can strain the compressor, leading to system failure. Going over pressure limits also wastes energy and only adds to your energy costs.
To help prevent this, only run the system at the correct pressure. You should also consider having separate systems to share the load. This takes the burden off one system and allows each compressor to operate at its required pressure.
Ignoring maintenance will lead to severe efficiency losses over time. Poor or neglected maintenance can lead to inconsistencies with your system’s operating temperatures, compression, pressure, contamination levels and moisture control. If these are left unmaintained, you can end up with expensive repairs down the road.
Energy Efficiency in Air Compressors Used in Mining
Air compressors in mining are a valuable means of improving various processes. However, unaddressed leaks and problems can lead to expensive operations. It’s estimated that 20%-30% of a compressor’s output are leaks, wasting energy and leading to operational losses. There are many costs to untreated air leaks, so maintaining your system is vital to your operation.
To ensure you’re not driving up your costs unnecessarily, focus on improving the efficiency of your air compressors with these tips.
Air compressor maintenance is key to keeping your compressor working at maximum efficiency. Get your equipment serviced at least once a year by a professional. This improves your chances of catching more minor issues early before they become expensive repairs. Small adjustments and basic cleaning will help keep everything running at top performance between scheduled services.
While getting a larger compressor than you need is tempting, it actually reduces your efficiency if you aren’t using the compressor enough to meet its capabilities. Rotary screw compressors operate better when running in a 100% loaded condition. If the compressor’s air production capacity meets its air requirement, it will load continuously. However, when in the unloaded condition, screw compressors are inefficient, using more energy if the air requirement isn’t met.
Always buy the right size compressor for your needs — this reduces the time spent in unloaded conditions and means you are wasting as little energy as possible while operating the compressor.
To further maximize efficiency, you need to look at the compressor system as a whole, not just the compressor. The delivery system for the air has a significant impact on the overall compressor efficiency. Evaluate your distribution system’s design and the materials it’s made with to see when improvements could be made.
Minimizing the number of bends in the system on the way to the end application helps reduce pressure drops and increases efficiency. The more sharp, small turns the air has to take, the less efficient the air delivery becomes. If you can’t avoid 90-degree turns in your system, opt for a slightly larger pipe diameter to give the air more room.
The material the distribution system is made from can also affect efficiency. Aluminum is less heavy than steel and is corrosion-resistant. Compressed air contains small amounts of water and oil, which can corrode some pipe materials over time. Along with the material, watch out for weakening joints. The distribution pipes vibrate due to the compressed air. This can weaken joints and cause leaks if left unmonitored.
Along with regular maintenance and tune-ups, air audits are incredibly helpful for maintaining efficiency. During an air audit, a professional will evaluate your compressor’s efficiency and determine your air demand. This check helps determine the compressor size that your operation needs, identify inefficiencies in the system, check if you need variable frequency drive and optimize your overall air usage.
Testing can take up to 14 days to get an in-depth look at your compressor operation. But you don’t have to worry about a loss of business or production for your mining operations. Your compressor system will remain on the entire time the audit is taking place so the auditor can get a complete look at how it’s running.
Contact Fluid Aire Dynamics for Compressed Air Systems
If you’re looking for dependable, efficient systems for your company, explore our compressed air systems. As a leading U.S. compressor provider, we’re dedicated to supplying you with high-quality, expert air compressor services and information. Along with offering an extensive inventory of the best possible air compressors, we offer comprehensive system analysis and system maintenance to ensure your compressor is operating at peak efficiency.
As an expert, full-service air compressor company, our team can help you with all your air compressor needs. With our Pennsylvania and Delaware locations, we extend our services around Maryland, Virginia, New York and New Jersey. We’ll provide you with the information and solutions you need to keep your compressor in top condition and your facility at its best operation. Contact us online to discuss our compressor products and services or schedule a system analysis.