The world’s largest mining company, BHP Billiton, has joined forces with a small Queensland research and development company, Cooee Products, to update mining practices, saving millions of litres of water every day.
With the mining industry in Queensland consuming 109 Gigalitres of water each year, or the equivalent of over 48,000 swimming pools, widespread uptake of this new technology would have a significant impact on State-wide water usage figures.
Under standard practice, surface mines apply up to 10 loads of water per day to haul roads to keep dust under control and maintain safe visibility, with each load using around 60 kilolitres.
In the case of Central Queensland’s BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA Coal) mine, Goonyella Riverside, this has meant pumping 4 million litres of water each day to control road dust.
With a diminishing on-site water reserve, management at Goonyella Riverside were investigating ways of improving mine roads and reducing water use when they saw Cooee Products’ ‘DustBloc’ promoted on the ABC’s The New Inventors television program.
After three comprehensive trials of DustBloc on haul roads at Goonyella Riverside, BHP Billiton and Cooee Products found the product successfully reduced water use by 90 percent, saving a massive 3.6 million litres of water per day.
DustBloc is a bitumen-water blend that mixes with water to form a safe product that can be applied to a range of surfaces to control dust.
It is environmentally benign, safe to handle, and can be stored, transported, and pumped at air temperature without specialised equipment.
Cooee Products’ Owner and Director, Mr Tony Pynsent, said the factors that set DustBloc apart from other dust suppression products were that it mixed freely with water and, once applied, soaked into the surface being treated. “Once the product dries on the surface, it is not affected by water, by either rainfall or water trucks, and will continue to function until it is physically removed by the action of truck tyres, road grading, or some other means,” Mr Pynsent said.
“You get immediate results which only lose effectiveness gradually, allowing for reapplication before dust levels become unmanageable.”
During the Goonyella Riverside trials, DustBloc was used to treat roads carrying 150 tonne trucks transporting loads of up to 225 tonnes.
The roads generate large amounts of dust, which must be controlled to maintain a safe level of visibility and reduce the health risks associated with respirable dust.
DustBloc produced immediate visible reductions in dust generation on the roads, needing application only once a day on average, saving valuable time and delivering long-term benefits in the form of improved road surfaces and reduced wear on haul truck tyres.
“The improved road surfaces have been found to reduce down time by allowing trucks to run during wet weather when it was previously too slippery,” Mr Pynsent said.
These savings can be achieved through no extra cost, with cost analysis showing the product to be cost neutral when applied at a rate of once daily.
BHP Billiton is now recommending that DustBloc be introduced widely across its mines, with the industry standing to save millions of litres of water every day, while achieving greater working efficiency. Cooee Products has already commenced work at eight other mines.
Cooee is also undertaking a number of trials of DustBloc in other settings (are they looking at coal trains?). “At the moment, it’s being trailed as a preservative on timber, as a finish on mud bricks, to control run-off on sandy soils in agricultural settings, and to control dust in quarries and feedlots,” Mr Pynsent said.
“Cooee is primarily a research company and it is our aim to continue to research the uses of this product to reduce water consumption and help other industries to be more efficient.”