Mines all across Australia are consistently looking for ways to reduce operational costs and increase profits. This becomes particularly pertinent when commodity prices have fallen or are at low points in their cycle as has been the case recently with thermal coal prices reported to be too low to cover production costs.
One of the key areas where mines can look to cut costs is by reducing the amount of expenditure on maintaining haul roads and the cost of constant haul road watering to suppress dust on site.
The road network is the backbone of any mine, so its condition and subsequent productivity needs to be kept at an optimal level, without being an onerous cost burden to the mine. The use of an appropriate road maintenance management strategy has the potential to generate significant cost savings, which is something any size and type of mine will benefit from.
How water carts drive up road operational costs in mine sites
Many mines rely solely on water carts to spray untreated water on haul road networks in order to suppress dust. This is usually done because it is perceived to be the simplest and most cost effective solution available.
For large open cut mine sites, a fleet of water carts is often required to be in operation 24/7 in order to water the roads constantly to prevent wheel generated dust from becoming airborne and obstructing the view of haul truck drivers.
Despite the widespread use of this technique, relying primarily on water carts for dust suppression not only has an unsustainable impact on the environment, but also increases road operational costs. The constant watering of haul roads leads to the rapid degradation of the roads’ surface and pushes up the cost of maintenance given the larger operating fleet of water carts and graders that are required .
When haul roads begin to degrade, flow on issues inevitably occur, such as:
- The formation of potholes, rutting and corrugations which require repair work (e.g. road grading).
- The need for routine (sometimes multiple times per year) re-sheeting of the wearing course layer.
- Safety incidents such as uncontrolled haul truck movements and collisions.
- Poor road stabilisation leading to rapid tyre wear.
The issues associated with overwatering haul roads inevitably drive up overall road maintenance costs significantly, despite the perception that relying on untreated water is the most economical solution.
It can therefore be seen that relying primarily on water carts for dust suppression purposes can actually have a detrimental impact on an operations’ profits. All mines are driven by their bottom line, so for a mine to be as profitable as possible, a relentless pursuit of innovative and strategic thinking is required in order to deliver operational improvements and efficiencies to positively impact operating profit.
Mining operations who want to reduce road operational costs and increasing profits can implement more effective solutions than simply spraying haul roads with untreated water. Such solutions include the adoption of a haul road treatment program.
What are the benefits of a haul road treatment program?
Effective road treatment programs for dust control and improved surface quality involves the support of a specialist that can assess the state of a haul road network. The service provider will then make recommendations to treat certain roads with specially formulated dust suppression products under a tailored maintenance program, rather than just spraying the roads 24/7 with untreated water.
Many dust control products are based on concentrated, environmentally friendly, polymer based formulations. They are usually supplied in a liquid form, ready to use and diluted in water carts on-site to the required application concentration.
There are a range of dust control sprays and treatments available such as lignosulphonate binders, bitumen emulsions and synthetic polymers. These formulations are much more effective at suppressing dust than plain water and can actually reduce water usage by up to 90%. Additionally, bitumen emulsions and polymers are considered to be “all-weather” solutions, so hauling can continue regardless of drought or heavy rain.
When used at the correct dosage levels at correct intervals and controlled under a quality road maintenance program, mines should realise a significant reduction in spraying frequency. This allows a mine to reduce its water cart fleet or increase a smaller fleets’ availability; redeploy water cart operators to perform other, more high yielding activities, such as operating mine equipment in production.
By reducing water consumption and water cart operator hours, mines save significantly on expenses. Additionally, as haul road networks are not continuously being over-watered, roads do not degrade anywhere near as quickly, which further saves on grading, general surface repairs and road re-sheeting.
A haul road treatment program by an external provider can also involve an on-site project supervisor to work with and train water cart operators, supplied by the mine, on equipment run by the mine, in the correct use of dust control products and surface treatments that improve road quality. This helps to ensure the treatment program is implemented correctly for optimal performance and cost savings.
What are the costs of implementing a haul road treatment program?
While we have outlined the potential operational savings a haul road treatment program will deliver, the costs of actually implementing such a program does need to be considered.
Some mine operators may perceive the introduction of a dust treatment program as a pure cost increase to the operation. However, this is not the case. In fact, a haul road treatment program can actually deliver a significant ROI for a mine.
As detailed in this case study, Dust-A-Side was actually able to deliver an annual value creation of over $9 million plus over $6 million in water cart savings for a mining client.* The mine was also able to off-hire 57% of its total water cart fleet in the space of a year.
So it can certainly be seen that while the implementation of a haul road treatment program may require some upfront expense, savings on road operation costs as well as other expenditures will more than make up for the investment in a relatively short period of time.
*Clients’ name withheld to protect privacy
Want to see how much your site can save on road costs by implementing a haul road treatment program?
We’ll provide you with a detailed cost analysis based on the size of your haul road network.
We’ll also provide you with figures showing how soon you’ll break even by engaging our services and how much you will be likely to go on and save on operating costs.