Tips for smart mine water management

By |  November 25, 2020
Photo: Xylem

Xylem designed and installed a comprehensive and integrated water management system for a U.S.-based aggregate plant. The system manages water for washdown, dust control, wheel wash, pugmill and slurry. Photo: Xylem

Mine operators know just how critical optimal mine water management has become. 

As finite water resources become ever scarcer, investors, regulators and local communities are increasingly focused on how the industry is managing water. In the U.S., where some parts are facing a historic drought, an estimated 4 million gallons of water per day are withdrawn for mining purposes.

Holistic mine water management, including smart technologies, presents a powerful opportunity to unlock compelling economic benefits for mine operators while protecting the surrounding environment and local community.

Experience shows that optimal water management begins with a holistic view of how water is used across the entire mining operation – from sourcing to dewatering to treatment and reuse. Every step is part of a process that can increase productivity, reduce costs and, ultimately, turn mining water management from an expense to a strategic advantage.

Managing efficiently

Every mine has a distinct set of operating conditions, and customized water management solutions can deliver better results. Still, three key challenges facing a majority of mine operators are increasing productivity, reliability and sustainability. 

Efficient mine water management, and tapping into the power of digital technologies, can support the effort by minimizing production downtime, operating costs and the environmental impact while enhancing performance and safety. Let’s look at what this means in reality:

Water quality and scarcity. Remote monitoring and control with real-time, continuous monitoring systems give mine operators a better understanding of water use and ensure water can be extracted from multiple sources, transported and treated at the desired pressure and quantity. 

Operational continuity and efficiency. Smart technologies like remote monitoring and control minimize costly, unplanned maintenance and unwanted downtime while reducing safety risks. Visibility and understanding the health of assets enables efficient scheduled maintenance, smart inventory management and reduced energy consumption.

• Regulatory compliance. Real-time, continuous monitoring systems and pipeline integrity management monitor water quantity and quality to ensure the extraction and transport of water and management of tailings meet regulatory standards.

The Golden Rule of pumping systems. Some operators may find it difficult to know where to begin to achieve efficient water management on site. Experience, however, shows that aiming to operate as close to the best efficiency point for a site’s pumping system is a great place to start. 

Straying too far from a pump’s best efficiency point reduces overall efficiency, which leads to premature wear, higher energy consumption, increased maintenance requirements and, as a result, more downtime. An audit of a mine’s water management system is the first step in a process to boost efficiency, reduce costs and enhance profit margins.

Once the appropriate selection is made based on proximity to the best efficiency point, integrating smart technologies is a logical next step. Let’s consider a typical, phased scenario: An open pit mining operator is looking for an efficient dewatering solution. The first step is to develop a customized solution using the most efficient dewatering pump to meet the head/flow requirements of the application. The pump can be paired with a variable frequency drive to ensure optimal performance.

Additional pumps may be needed as the mine expands and dewatering requirements increase. This second phase of integrating smart technologies could involve a PLC intelligent controller being incorporated into the system, enabling the customer to easily control multiple pumps via the PLC or intelligent controller. 

A third phase would involve enhancing the dewatering system further by adding a remote monitoring and control solution. For isolated or inaccessible mine sites or operations where manpower is limited, remote monitoring and control provides visibility of assets and peace of mind.

Food for thought

The water-related challenges facing mine operators remain complex, while the drive for productivity quickly continues. The good news is that a holistic approach to water management, combined with smart technologies, can deliver major gains for mine operators. 

With exciting new developments on the horizon to add to the arsenal of powerful smart solutions already on the market, now is the time to harness the power of digital solutions and turn mine water management from an expense to a strategic advantage.

Jessy Parmar is a business development manager for the industrial marketing team at Xylem.

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