Have emerging technologies reached the point where diesel particulate matter can be removed from underground mines?
, 2017, Vol. 69, No. 10, pp. 54-60
Diesel-powered equipment has allowed the mining industry to raise production rates and significantly improve productivity, as it is rugged, mobile and reliable, but its widespread use in underground mines has generated concerns regarding the exposure of mine workers to harmful diesel engine exhaust gases and particulate components such as diesel particulate matter (DPM), which has recently been classified as a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The agency expressed further concerns that workers’ exposure to high DPM concentrations can increase the risk of cardiovascular, cardiopulmonary and respiratory illnesses. Three emerging technologies could have the ability to replace diesel-powered equipment and remove DPM from underground mines: fuel-cell-powered mining equipment, battery-powered mining equipment and advanced material handling systems. This paper reviews them and assesses whether they have reached the point where the pollutants emitted by diesel-powered equipment can be removed from underground mines through the introduction of zero-emission mining equipment and power systems. Information is also provided from the results of a feasibility study, including a detailed cost benefit analysis, carried out at six Canadian and nine U.S. underground mines, which looked at the possibility of replacing diesel-powered production equipment with fuel-cell-powered equipment. The remarkable pace at which battery technology is progressing is also reviewed, and the feasibility of replacing diesel-powered mining equipment with battery-powered equipment is assessed.