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Underground mine ventilation: how to improve safety and half energy costs

In underground mines, air is polluted by diesel vehicles and blasting activity. Mine ventilation is an energy consuming and complicated business, which means there is a large potential to save energy and cost in this area.

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Mine ventilation control systems have been given increased attention over many years as a result of the increasing cost of energy or limited access to energy, but the potential to increase the health and safety of workers and the number of production faces available while maintaining a given airflow is still significant.

It has been proven in operation that energy use and surface fan speed can be reduced dramatically by using an appropriate mine ventilation control system with Ventilation on Demand (VoD) and advanced process control (APC) for digital optimization.

By controlling and digitally optimizing mine ventilation, annual savings of up to 50% are possible

Advances in smart ventilation controls

There is no need to ventilate the entire mine because production may only be concentrated in, say, 20% of the facility at any one time.

Although the concept of ventilation in underground mines may seem relatively simple, getting the right quantity and quality of air to where it's needed, when it’s needed, in an expanding mining environment is an elaborate operation that requires an array of ventilation components.

Typical ventilation systems consist of the main fan system, air regulators and doors that distribute air through the mine. There are also auxiliary systems that ventilate local production areas and workshops. Air requirements in an area depend on its location, the number of people there and which machines are  being used.
Jan Nyqvist, ABB product manager for mine automation
"VoD is a relatively new innovation, and the idea is to more efficiently distribute air where it is needed by only ventilating when and where people or machines are working"

Three levels of underground ventilation control

There are three levels to ABB's ventilation control system - ABB Ability™ Ventilation Optimizer:

  1. The first involves basic control, such as remotely starting and stopping equipment from the control room, meaning personnel do not have to venture into hundreds of kilometers of underground tunnels to start a fan.
  2. The second level is the Ventilation on Demand - VoD functionality.
  3. In the level three, we employ an algorithm, sensor feedback and advanced multivariable control technology to run all the fans in optimal operational mode, distributing the air supply more efficiently and minimizing energy consumption in real time.

The solution is built on a complete, open and flexible collaboration platform - ABB Ability™ System 800xA. Mine ventilation software library provides standardized operator environment. Modularized hardware solution enables efficient engineering and reduced maintenance costs. ABB Ability™ System 800xA can be expanded with a wide range of other digital applications to automate and optimize your operations from mine to port and from plant to enterprise.

ABB's VoD system employes a series of sensors throughout the mine that transmit real-time information regarding air quality, diesel-vehicle use and personnel to control system operator for analysis.

Why control underground mine ventilation?

  • Ensure a healthy working environment by delution of hazardous substances and climate control
  • Shorten downtime thanks to quicker evacuation of blast gases
  • Reduce costs by minimizing energy consumption
  • Control CAPEX and OPEX with better utilization of existing infrastructure

Digital twin of the ventilation system

With ABB Ability Ventilation Optimizer, a system's scheduled, event-based or real-time needs can be captured with either a tracking and tagging system or environmental and flow sensors. Efficient air distribution is achieved with the built-in parent-child object model or by using an empirical model extracted from real-time data and used in closed feedback loop operation.

The parent-child relation and triggered-needs relation can easily be set up with a few clicks via the object-based faceplates.

When required, the ventilation system is adjusted in real time to meet the triggered ventilation demand.
ABB has been using digital twins - digital replicas of physical assets such as fans - in its ventilation system for a decade now, but has taken the concept to a new level with Ventilation Optimizer

Digital optimization

The empirical model can be extracted from operational data or via a step-answer method and requires minimal additional engineering and tuning.

The model calculates the optimal set point for all main ventilation components for a given demand and uses feedback control from sensors, such as flow sensors, which guarantees the right amount of air is delivered.

It has been proven in operation that the models work well 24/7 and little or no effort is needed to maintain them. The empirical model has been shown to reduce energy requirements by some tens of percent.
As part of level 3, we apply a more model-based algorithm to control all the fans underground, using a patented optimizer method. This creates a digital model of the ventilation system that is then able to control all fans in an optimized way.

A simulator for testing and operator training

ABB has an extensive simulation package that allows not only the simulation of the operator station but also, with VentSim connect, the training and testing of both operators and models in near-real situations.

ABB Ability Ventilation Optimizer is proven to reduce your ventilation cost, extend the lifetime of your ventilation system and create a lasting healthy and safe working environment.

It can also be your start toward automation of more underground systems, such as dewatering, material handling and power - and the beginning of your digital future.
In the future we hope to develop low-cost IoT sensors for fire scenarios or toxic source detection that will make the system even smarter

Achieve a higher level of automation & optimization

Get the most of your data with underground mine digital services

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