As at the end of 2019, mining production had faced significant losses for two consecutive years, with production levels 1.3% lower in 2019, which was also 2.1% lower than in 2017. And the reality is that production levels will likely be lower still for 2020 due to the unprecedented times faced in the sector, and the country, as a result of the impacts of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and containment measures.
Despite prevailing challenges in the local economy, which have been worsened by the impacts of the pandemic, lessons have shown that mining – along with other industrial sectors – remain key contributors to the economy and country. However, mining also remains one of the toughest operating environments; with revolving regulatory changes, geopolitical, civil and social pressures. Added to this, with growing social consciousness, the impact of mining on the natural environment – particularly around water use and management, owing to growing water scarcity across the country – are at the forefront of sustainability discussions within energy and mining resource industries.
At the core of its operations, mining is about turning base ore into a purified mineral – and at profit. There are two distinct phases in this process: extraction of the ore from the orebody and concentration of the recovered ore into the desired mineral. The use of water has always been fundamental to the processing operation. Often the demands for process water result in additional investment in water treatment and re-processing facilities, further increasing the initial cost of any projects – not to mention the resulting impact on the natural environment. However, in both phases, using novel techniques, focussing on the efficiency and the associated operational costs will yield the optimum return for the miner.
For instance, emerging technology – like peristaltic or hose pumps – can significantly contribute to enhancing returns in processing operations where the crushed ore is turned into slurry (by adding water) and the slurry is treated and filtered to liberate the precious mineral from the valueless waste (or gangue). The same technology also has benefits in eliminating or reducing some of the consequential negative impacts from mining.
Peristaltic pumping technology is an emerging technology that has evolved from familiar lower pressure, low flow medical devices into heavy duty, medium pressure industrial pumping solutions. These mimic the well proven principle of peristalsis found in the human body. Hose pumps are an essentially simple technology, using a specially designed, re-enforced rubber hose that is repeatedly compressed by a rotating pressing shoe and then allowed to relax, or respite. This action results in a simple positive displacement pumping mechanism with a powerful, high vacuum suction, dry priming action.
Hose pumps have a number of attractions for process industries including a gentle pumping action, ability to pump high specific gravity (SG) liquids with significant solid contents, dry running capabilities, low in-situ infrequent maintenance requirements allied to abrasion resistance to provide an innovative solution to mining pumping problems. Specifically, by allowing higher SG slurries to be pumped, a hose pump can reduce process water needs and deliver significant water savings.
This innovative technology offers several advantages for mining applications and these pumps:
- Are cost effective and require less initial investment, as well as less overall maintenance costs and downtime – providing mines a higher return on capital and easier operations
- Promote the use of less water, as pumps can save (dilution) water
- Use less space and power than other conventional pumps
- Pose less risk of chemical leakages, by eliminating leaking seals, which also means there is less chemical waste or damage and thereby less pollution and waste impacting the natural environment.
As Government, industries and society increasingly recognise the importance of and advocate for the sustainable management of resources – and especially freshwater resources – we applaud the existing efforts by mines to reduce their reliance on water and encourage them to seek out solutions that apply support to their endeavours in every phase of their activities. Solutions that can promise a reduction in water, space and power use, chemical waste, leakage and pollution, as well as risk – while reducing capital investment and thereby increasing overall project return-on-investment.
By Darryl Macdougall, Managing Director, Verder Pumps South Africa