Currently, the doors are opened and closed manually once a month. Automating them would allow the company to regulate the airflow daily to extend the cooling capacity of the rock mass through the summer.
“Automation could reduce the temperature by at least one degree Celsius,” said McKinnon. “It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s significant.”
When the temperature exceeds 31.5 degrees Celsius, miners may be required to incorporate periodic rest periods into their schedule. That impacts productivity. “As you go deeper,” explained McKinnon, “the geothermal gradient causes the work environment to be warmer.”
A final decision on using automation to optimize the system is still under consideration.
The Creighton pit operated from the 1920s to 1987, said Doug O’Connor, senior ventilation specialist at Vale Inco. The slusher trenches were excavated to access and extract ore around the pit.
“They drove a drift out, drilled raises into the ore, then blasted them and slushed out the ore.”
Today, the slusher trenches serve as airways.
“Our main fresh air fans are located underground,” said O’Connor. “They draw the air down through the pit, so the air passes over the rock mass, through the tramways and slusher trenches into the ore pass systems and then, from there, it’s collected and distributed through our fresh air systems.”
The trenches are at different elevations and are exposed to varying volumes of rock mass.
“The trenches closer to surface have very little rock on them, so they get cold very quickly and they get hot very quickly, so we use the doors on the trenches and tramways as controls.”
The natural cooling system may be the only one of its kind in the world, said O’Connor.
“It’s very unique. It’s the only one in the world that I’m aware of.
There are some variations of it. The Kidd Mine in Timmins created ice stopes by blasting through a part of their operation into an open pit and they’re pulling some air through there, but it’s not on a scale that we have.”
The audit conducted by MIRARCO “will make sure that we’re maximizing its use and look at options to either increase its capacity or make it more efficient so we’re getting cooler air than we’re getting now.”