Alternative haulage, part two: an industry priority

In part one of this post we looked at CMIC’s Alternative Haulage project and why it was identified as a priority for both surface and underground mining operations.

For part two on this topic, we spoke with Mal Carroll, Manager of research and development at Syncrude Canada, to learn more about why Syncrude considers this project important.

Carroll explained the Alternative Haulage project addresses an operational challenge that is an innovation priority for Syncrude. “We move over 1.5 million tonnes of material a day – oil sands, waste and overburden material,” said Carroll. “On average that material is transported about five kilometers, but as the mine faces expand, so the distances will increase. Looking at alternatives to current transportation methods has long been a focus for us, in order to reduce operating costs, reduce our GHG emissions, increase the reliability and availability of equipment, and reduce the energy and water intensity of that equipment.”

As the project moves through phase two, technologies are being evaluated, and a potentially game changing computer modeling system is being developed. This is a cultural shift for innovation in the mining industry, where analysis has traditionally been done using spreadsheets. The computer model allows for a more integrated approach that will be faster and more efficient, evaluating technologies across multiple scenarios and across the spectrum of a mine’s operations.

One of the benefits of the computer modeling approach is that, rather than simply comparing technologies, the results could conceivably impact the way mines are designed and operated.

“This is a very interesting project”, said Mal, “as it speaks to the advances in modeling. It’s moving us toward the digital twin because we’re developing a model that we can use to assess technology within the context of our own mining environment, which will eventually move us toward a completely virtual model that can be used to design, plan, engineer and manage a mine in the best possible way.”

Phase three of the project will be the modeling itself, followed by a pilot test, or small-scale simulation and then a full on-site pilot.

“In this industry everything is very expensive”, said Mal. “So we really need to understand the scale-up issues. The modeling tool that is currently under development will allow us to look at individual pieces of equipment and work out how they will impact the overall system. It will provide invaluable insight and allow us to make the best decisions.”

The modeling phase of the Alternative Haulage project is planned for later in 2021. We will provide updates on this blog, and on the project page of the website.

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