How new drilling technology could change African mining
WRITTEN BY IAN COCKERILL
If you’d cryogenically frozen a gold miner 100 years ago and brought him back today, he would find little had changed in the way mining works.
This is surprising because everything around us has changed. Energy and water are no longer cheap or plentiful in Africa, and the world expects big business to reduce its environmental impact.
If we are to reverse the decline in African gold production we have seen over the past few years, the industry needs to adapt to the world around it. In particular it needs to reduce the enormous costs of pumping water, compressed air and electricity several kilometres down mines.
I believe at least some of the answers lie with two entrepreneurs who have spent the last 15 years developing a vastly more efficient drilling system for deep level mining. Their company, Peterstow Aquapower, last year opened a state-of-the-art manufacturing factory in Ngwenya, Swaziland.
The system uses patented closed‐loop water hydraulic technology and power packs. The closed-loop design cuts water usage and ensures a more efficient transfer of power to the drill than existing technologies. The power packs are self-contained, eliminating the need for costly infrastructure such as compressed air reticulation columns and high strength water piping.
Compressors account for around 30 percent of installed energy capacity at the average large mine. If you eliminate that energy consumption on half a dozen mines, that saves enough energy to power a town the size of Port Elizabeth.
The result of all these savings is a drill which uses a fraction - trials suggest less than 1 percent - of the energy required by some existing systems and up to 60 percent less water.
Much less energy also means much lower costs. As well as helping meet environmental requirements, there is a real financial case for this system.
Mines are going to come under huge pressure as significant consumers of power and they need to start looking at how they can change. This kind of innovation means mines can reduce their power requirements, and get a much more efficient drill which drills more quickly, offering more operating time at the face.
Times have changed and big business like mining has the capability to put in place a game changing technology to keep up. I believe this is such a technology.
Since this article was written, Ian Cockerill has accepted a role as a non-executive director at Peterstow Aquapower.