This is according to Peterstow Aquapower, manufacturers of the new rock drill, which uses significantly less water and no oil to drill in mines.
“We started out as a technology company and I set out to eliminate the need for oil in hydraulic machines. This drill uses ordinary tap water,” Peterstow Aquapower CEO Douglas Barrows told News24 on the sidelines of the Mining Indaba in Cape Town.
The drill works with a closed loop system where water is fed to the drill and back out to an external reservoir. This means that the drill uses a fraction of the water and energy of conventional mining machinery.
“Out machines cut the water use by 80% and you can save about 28% of electricity costs for a mining operation. That’s about two power stations in South Africa,” said Barrows.
The technology is also safer in that there is no oil or dust which negatively affects the health of the workers. This ties in with the ministry’s drive to makes mining a safer occupation.
“As early as October 2009, I had commenced a process of developing an integrated electronic system for managing the mine health and safety portfolio. The system allowed a process of an integrated management of information and improved management of the mining industry in respect of mine health and safety,” said Minerals and Energy Minister Susan Shabangu.
According to the department of environmental affairs, industry in SA consumes about 59% of electricity and the mining industry about 33% of that total.
The main reason for the power consumption in mining is that the technology is essentially outdated, according to Barrows.
“Compressed air is singularly inefficient. Current mining technology evolved in the 1880s and hasn’t changed much since. Our system is entirely backward compatible – you could just plug it in.”
The new drill also uses a fraction of the water of traditional mining methods. While this alone would not eliminate the acid mining water problem, it could go a long way to preventing the problem from getting worse.
“Water use is cut by 80%. That, with the energy cost cuts will save the industry a whole lot of money, and money ultimately talks,” Barrows said.
“The closed loop design dramatically cuts water usage and ensures a more efficient transfer of power to the drill with greater reliability than existing technologies. It reduces water wastage and flooding which allows for the reduction of pumping facilities, opening up additional opportunities for savings,” the company said in a statement.
The cost for the new drilling system will be about $27 000 each, which Barrows said was significantly cheaper than current systems, where compressors run continuously.
“We can cut the capital cost of a new mine by more than half and it will reduce the environmental impact of mining. It’s an environmentally friendly way to operate into the future.”
The drills are already operational in Norway, Uganda and Germany, where they operate under water.
This might be a step in the right direction but it does not solve the problems we are facing with Acid mine drainage (AMD). This new technology will reduce the volumes but will not eliminate the historical problem. With acid mine water decanting at the Cradle of Mankind at present, urgent solutions are needed.