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News Release

Release Date: February 23, 2004

DOE Selects Eight Projects to Improve Energy Efficiency in Mining

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced the selection of eight new technology-development projects designed to reduce energy consumption, enhance economic competitiveness, and reduce the environmental impacts of the domestic mining industry. The projects will be managed by DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), and are part of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Industries of the Future program.

The Industries of the Future program is at the core of DOE’s efforts to improve the energy efficiency of America’s most energy-intensive industries. The program provides cost-shared support for research to address the needs of nine industries: agriculture, aluminum, chemicals, forest products, glass, metal casting, mining, petroleum, and steel. Its goal is to accelerate the development and use of advanced, energy efficient, renewable and pollution-prevention technologies that benefit industry, the environment, and U.S. energy security.

While the mining industry uses many of the latest technologies to locate and mine materials, further process and technological advances are needed to enable enhanced and more efficient resource identification, characterization, and production. The eight new projects are part of a continuous effort to make these advances in the mining industry. Chosen under an Exploration and Mining Technology solicitation issued by DOE last year, the projects fall under four “areas of interest” identified in the solicitation. The eight projects are described below, grouped by area of interest.

Area of Interest 1: Exploration and Mine Planning

University of Utah, “Development of New Geophysical Techniques Mineral Explorations and Mineral Discriminator”
DOE Funding: $1,454,852
Cost Share: $1,455,000
One of the major problems of mineral exploration is the ability to reliably distinguish between uneconomic mineral deposits and economic mineralization. While the mining industry uses many geophysical methods to locate the mineral deposits, until recently, there was no reliable technology for mineral resources identification and characterization. The main goal of this project is to develop a new geophysical technique for subsurface material characterization, exploration, and discrimination, based on electromagnetic methods.

Area of Interest 2: Underground Mining

Stolar Research Corporation, “Demonstration of Crosswell Imaging Technology and Advanced Drillstring Radar Navigation for Horizontal Directional Drilling”
DOE Funding: $1,500,000
Cost Share: $1,500,000
The overall objective of this project is to demonstrate two advanced technologies critically needed by the coal mining industry: (1) crosswell imaging of a coal seam in advance of mining via horizontal boreholes, and (2) real-time measurement-while-drilling for guidance and navigation of drillstrings during horizontal drilling operations applicable to both short and long holes. The two technologies will be developed into commercial prototypes and field tested in actual mining conditions. The in-mine demonstrations are a necessary step in the successful commercialization of advanced coal mining technologies.
Carnegie Mellon University, “Effective Conveyor Belt Inspection for Improving Mining Productivity”
DOE Funding:
Cost Share:
Carnegie Mellon University will develop and commercialize a low-cost, comprehensive inspection system to identify defects in conveyor belts used in underground and surface mines, coal-fired power plants, and other large-scale material-handling operations. Current belt inspection methods are ineffective. Manual inspection is time-consuming, misses many defects, and sometimes is impossible to perform because of insufficient access. Numerous technologies for monitoring belt condition have been researched, but very few have penetrated the mining market because of high costs, poor reliability, and high false-positive rates.

Area of Interest 3: Surface Mining

Caterpillar, Inc., “Investigation of GPS/IMU Positioning System for Mining Equipment”
DOE Funding: $602,227
Cost Share: $602,237
The objective of this project is to validate the energy savings and reduced costs from the improved performance that a combined global positioning system (GPS) and inertial measurement unit (IMU) could offer for information-based displays on earthmoving machines and for automated earthmoving machines in the future. An IMU provides data for calculating position by sensing accelerations and rotation rates of a machine’s rigid body. This technology has the potential to allow an information-based product like Caterpillar’s Computer Aided Earthmoving System to operate in areas with satellite shading. Satellite shading is an issue in open-pit mining because machines are routinely required to operate close to high walls, which significantly reduces the amount of sky visible to the GPS antenna on the machine.
University of Nevada Reno, “Robot-Human Control Interactions in Mining Operations”
DOE Funding: $286,145
Cost Share: $383,217
This project will evaluate the new robot-human machine control concept. Three specific research objectives are: (1) to prepare a robotized excavator for testing, and implement a machine control concept with realtime man-machine interfacing; (2) to evaluate the robotized machine in a variety of tasks in the laboratory and field; and (3) to promote applications of the new control and man-machine interfacing technology to industrial partners and the technical society. The project will include bench- and small-scale field experiments and testing at mines with the participation of industrial partners. Energy cost savings and waste reduction for an operating mine will be determined to test whether the investment in robotic machine hardware is beneficial to the economy and the environment.

Area of Interest 4: Energy Intensive Processes

Hibbing Taconite, “Upgrading Low Grade Ore by In-Pit Crushing and Cobbing”
DOE Funding: $1,200,000
Cost Share: $7,005,000
The goal of this project is to lower energy costs of comminution (grinding) of iron ore, to reduce costs to produce iron ore pellets, and to use low-grade ore that would otherwise not be processed because of its poor economics. Mining and mineral processing is very energy intensive. Currently, about 33 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity is consumed annually in U.S. mining. A small reduction in the energy required for comminution offers tremendous potential for energy savings and cost reduction. This project targets a minimum energy savings in comminution of 8.4 percent, and a potential for as much as 20.8 percent savings. This energy reduction equates to an annual savings of $275 million for the mining industry.
University of Utah, “Online SAG Mill Grinding Pulse Measurement and Optimization”
DOE Funding: $246,253
Cost Share: $250,000
Current ball mills use some 99 trillion Btu annually for size reduction. Comminution in grinding mills is inherently inefficient, using only 1 percent of the input energy. Grinding mills also consume tons of steel balls and liners. By monitoring grinding-mill operation, grinding energy efficiency can be improved. Grinding efficiency of ball milling depends on the tumbling motion of the total charge within the mill. Use of this tumbling motion to efficiently break particles depends on conditions inside the mill. However, measuring conditions inside the mill shell during operation is virtually impossible because of the severe environment presented by the tumbling charge. The goal of this project is to develop an instrumented grinding ball capable of surviving for hours and transmitting the impacts it experiences. This data could then be used to improve grinding energy efficiency and reduce costs.
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, “Mine to Mill Optimization of Aggregate Production”
DOE Funding: $679,947
Cost Share: $715,214
The production of a mineral commodity is a two-stage process, involving mining to extract the commodity, and processing to convert the commodity into a marketable product. Traditionally, these two stages have been viewed as self-contained entities. However, mining and processing are intimately linked, particularly in the area of particle size reduction. Optimizing each stage separately without considering the total system often misses potential economic benefits and energy savings. The purpose of this project is to adapt current mine-to-mill technology for use in the aggregates industry. The project will be carried out at two full-scale test sites.


Contact: David Anna, DOE/NETL, 412-386-4646