The adoption of new mining methods and technological advancements has traditionally been sluggish, often finding itself battling against entrenched practices. However, recent years have witnessed a remarkable surge in innovation in areas such as rock breaking, ore transport, energy efficiency, and mineral processing. Notably, cutting-edge technologies in monitoring, control, and ventilation-on-demand have reshaped the landscape, bringing about improvements in safety, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness.

Despite these strides, there remains ample room for optimisation of primary mine ventilation systems. Progress does not always hinge on groundbreaking technology though; sometimes, a fresh perspective coupled with experience can drive significant improvements, and one such groundbreaking advancement has been the introduction of ventilation districts as an optimised alternative to traditional ventilation systems for drill-and-blast operations.

As the name suggests a ventilation district refers to a specific area or zone within a mine with dedicated, isolated, ventilation zone to ensure the circulation of fresh air and the removal of potentially harmful gases, dust, and fumes generated during mining operations. Segmenting the ventilation system into several areas allows the mine to operate the mining zones independently. Effective ventilation is essential, not only for the health and safety of miners but also for the efficient operation of equipment and machinery underground. Improper ventilation can lead to a variety of hazards, including exposure to harmful gases, heat stress, dust-related lung diseases, and the risk of fires or explosions.

Dividing a mines ventilation system into districts is of interest as pollutants or emergencies affecting one area of the mine will remain localised and will not endanger all underground mine personnel. Equally, and of particular interest to stakeholders, dividing the mine into separate zones allows the mine to have a flexible blasting plan to further enable unconstrained mining. Ventilation districts therefore play a critical role in ensuring the overall safety and productivity of mining operations while simultaneously allowing operations to safely drive production targets.

However, this new approach is not without its challenges. Mining is complex with many moving parts that have the potential to constrain mining operations. Dividing a mine into ventilation districts is therefore only one, albeit important, improvement towards optimising mining operations. From a ventilation perspective, cumbersome return airway requirements and the potential for ventilation leakage are issues that must be overcome. Factors such as air quantity requirements, re-entry periods, and air contamination also bear consideration. Sectioning districts provides the ability to more easily balance the airflows, meet the design criteria, minimise exposure to harmful contaminants and optimise capital and operating costs.

In support of this proposed strategy, recent studies have shown that with careful design and implementation, ventilation districts are able to provide clear benefits over traditional ventilation systems. Therefore, with a careful mix of a “little old” and a “little new”, the industry can continue to enhance safety, efficiency, and sustainability in primary mine ventilation systems.

Wynand Marx, CEO and Christo Visagie, Director at BBE Group

By Admin