The future of mining - Swedish mining company LKAB relies on digital communication for increased power system reliability

The future of mining - Swedish mining company LKAB relies on digital communication for increased power system reliability

Digital communication is at the heart of the power system in the Konsuln test mine – taking the company’s power system protection to the next level

Swedish mining company LKAB knows that it will have to mine iron ore at greater depths in the future. And the company also aims to set a new standard for mining production by 2030, where the objective is a future mine that is safe, carbon-dioxide-free, digitalized, and autonomous.

To set this new world standard for sustainable mining at great depth, LKAB initiated an industrial development project in 2018. Within the project, which is one of Sweden’s biggest industrial investments to date, globally leading companies ABB, Combitech, Epiroc and Sandvik, have joined forces with LKAB to make the necessary technological advances for tomorrow’s mining operations - effective solutions that ensure safe mining operations that are economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable.

A test mine, Konsuln, in the town of Kiruna in Northern Sweden, serves as a real mine environment where technology, machines and working methods are tested. ABB contributes with solutions for underground electrification, as well as an integrated automation platform and operations management system. Within the framework of the testbed the best means of building an efficient autonomous production system that is carbon-dioxide-free and has the highest possible level of safety is studied. The ambitious goal is to reach zero carbon dioxide emissions, with higher safety for workers, while also increasing productivity by 50 percent.

One step ahead also in power system protection and control

Within the Konsuln test mine environment, LKAB is also one of the first mining companies in the world to upgrade their power system protection and control with IEC 61850 standard-based digital communication and GOOSE (Generic Object Oriented Substation Event) messaging.

A power interruption in underground mining does not only mean costly production downtime; it can also potentially cause an unsafe situation for people - fire detection and protection, air conditioning and ventilation systems could all be affected. Mining companies generally have power backup provisions, such as back-up generators in place. However, to further automate the power system infrastructure, and to make significant improvements in reliability and robustness, IEC 61850-enabled devices and horizontal GOOSE communication will enable faster reaction times for the power system’s protection scheme and still maintain power protection selectivity. This will minimize the amount and duration of unplanned interruptions due to network faults.

“Fast protection is a must for the future” said Charlie Björk, R&D engineer at LKAB. “We are now exploring the world of GOOSE. We feel it’s a good fit with the main parts our strategic plans of increasing digitalization and causing zero harm.”

There are currently twelve of ABB’s Relion® REX640 protection relays installed and commissioned as a part of the power system protection in the mine. The purpose of the protection relays is to detect problems in the power system, ideally as early as possible, and to either eliminate the problems or significantly reduce their impact, i.e., prevent or reduce damage to personnel and/or equipment. When a short circuit fault is detected, the protection relay closest to the fault must trip and prevent other relays in the network from tripping by utilizing fast GOOSE peer-to-peer communication. As a result, fast operation times and good selectivity are achieved in the customer’s 6 kV network.

“Peer-to-peer communication with GOOSE between the protection relays improves the reaction speed without sacrificing selectivity. This ensures a safer working environment and reliable power supply in our mine” said Magnus Emanuelsson, Senior R&D Engineer at LKAB.

  • Relion REX640 offers all-in-one protection for advanced power generation and distribution applications. The fully modular design allows unequaled customization and modification flexibility, and easy adaptation to changing protection requirements throughout the relay life cycle.
  • At the Konsuln test mine. Relion REX640 protection relays installed in ABB's SafePlus medium-voltage switchgear. Photo courtesy of LKAB.
  • At the Konsuln test mine. Relion REX640 protection relays installed in ABB's UniGear medium-voltage switchgear.Photo courtesy of LKAB.

The IEC 61850 standard allows digitalization of the power system in a way that it allows integration of existing equipment and systems and collaboration with other digital entities, such as a power management system (PMS). Further, standard-compliant devices supplied by different manufacturers can communicate with each other without any engineering-intensive complications in the same power system.

With the new power distribution solution in place LKAB has gained increased power system reliability, and also taken an important step forward in their strive towards safer and more sustainable mine operation.


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