The Ontario Mining Association (OMA) has launched a compressed air leak management study to help member companies save money and conserve energy.
The project, made possible by a contribution of $218,000 from the Ontario Power Authority's Conservation Bureau, will entail a comprehensive audit of electricity use and savings opportunities at three mines.
According to Cheryl Brownlee, the OMA's Manager of Stakeholder Relations, the Ontario mining industry spends close to $500 million a year on energy, including $300 million for electricity.
The Ontario Power Authority's Conservation Bureau has a mandate for promoting a culture of conservation in the province and has a budget of $1.5 million to fund projects targeting energy savings.
"When the opportunity to apply for funding was presented to the OMA's energy committee, "compressed air was the first thing everyone thought of," said Brownlee.
The project will be led by Ivor da Cunha of Leapfrog Energy Technologies Inc., who has had extensive experience developing compressed air testing programs for Ontario Hydro.
The three mines selected will measure the performance of compressed air systems, track the cost of air leaks against incremental maintenance and raise employee awareness about the cost of leaks.
The audits, which begin at the end of September and conclude by year-end, will employ templates developed by da Cunha, but will be conducted by mine personnel or contracted out to third parties.
Audits will report on the efficiency of air compressors, dryers and distribution equipment on surface, the miles and miles of pipe underground, as well as the take-off points where compressed air is connected to mining equipment.
"Air leaks can be difficult to detect," explained da Cunha. "You can't smell or see it and you can't always hear or feel it. In these cases, you have to rely on an ultrasound device."
Instrumentation can be used to measure airflows, keep track of historical usage and flag discrepancies, but not all mines are equipped with the technology.
"It's an environment where things that are screwed together are probably going to come loose at one point or another," said da Cunha.
Checking for leaks and repairing them "is like painting the Brooklyn Bridge," he said. "It never ends."
However, not all leaks are accidental. In some cases, compressed air is also misused by miners to cool off or hose down their equipment, both of which are costly compared to other methods.
A final report will be released in March 2007 and a seminar or workshop may follow to share best practices.