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Coal: the alternative to face the world´s energy demand
Coal: the alternative to face the world´s energy demand Coal: the alternative to face the world´s energy demand

2010.09.06


Terra Solutions - Technical Corner - Case studies - Coal: the alternative to face the world´s energy demand

With its wide range of explosives and initiation systems, MAXAM provides coverage to the main extracting firms of North America, with one of the greatest coal deposists in the world.

Coal is the most abundant fossil fuel in the world. Sold internationally since the Roman Empire period, it played a key role during the industrial revolution. Today, its abundance, safe and inexpensive features, make this resource one of the main sources of energy for generating electricity in the world, and the ideal candidate to face the global community’s energy demand for the next few years.

Main electric generator
Coal is the second most important resource, being approximately the source of 30% of the world’s energy consumption. There are four types of coal: anthracite, coal, lignite and peat. Its applications are varied, the most relevant being: electric energy generation, almost 40% of the electricity generated worldwide is produced by coal;  steel manufacturing, two thirds of the worlds steel is produced using coke; cement and industrial heating processes.

With the petrol crisis, coal has acquired a remore important role. Today’s tendency indicates an important development in converting coal into liquid and gaseous fuels to replace petroleum and natural gas.

Important increase
Energy demand is closely linked to economic growth and life style standards. According to the International Energy Agency’s report (World Energy Outlook 2009), the world’s primary energy demand will increase an average of 1, 5 % per year between the year 2007 and 2030. “In absolute terms, coal demand will register by far the highest increase during the predicted period, followed by gas and petrol”, according to this report.

Coal will continue being the essential fuel for electric energy production and its involvement in the worldwide generation “mix” will increase three percent until representing 44% in the year 2030. One of the main reasons for this constant increase is this fuel existing deposits. The World Energy Council, a group of over 90 countries that offer reference data regarding energy production, states that almost 850.000 million tonnes of coal in the world are yet to be extracted. For the International Energy Agency, proven reserves are around 909.000 million tonnes.



Worldwide reserves
The largest coal deposits are found in North America, Russia and China, although it is found in important quantities in some Arctic isles, Western Europe, India, South Africa, Australia and Eastern South America. According to the Unites States Energy Department, China is the biggest consumer of the world (38% of the worlds consumption), followed by the United States (with 18,4%) and India (with 7,7%).

North American industry
The United States is one of coal’s main destinations, a country that already has big reserves and where 49% of electric generation comes from its combustion.

In Canada, open pit coal operations are one of the safest and significant big industries. Both in the USA and Canada there are important metallurgical and thermal coal producers and consumers, having developed in the recent years a strong industry to face the increasing existing electric energy needs. A market in which MAXAM has acquired an important position with a complete variety of explosives, initiation systems and technical assistance services adapted to the needs of mining operations and to this industry’s main agents’ requirements.

MAXAM: coal´s ally
In the last two decades, MAXAM has irrupted into North America’s coal industry with a strong presence across various states of the United States and Western Canada.

Today, MAXAM has two bulk explosives manufacturing plants in Wyoming and Montana, two in British Columbia, and a last generation factory located at the heart of Western Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains’ coalfield. In these areas, MAXAM provides Down the Hole services to its clients - explosives that have already been charged and introduced in the shot holes using specialized charging units as well as offering its products and initiation systems from a privileged logistic location. MAXAM collaborates in coal extraction with this market’s main producers (Grand Cache Coal, Trapper Mining, or Bridger Coal Company, among others). One of this industry’s main clients is Teck Coal: the world’s second largest coke producer.

Teck Coal: the world’s second largest coke producer
Teck’s coal mines are known for the high quality of its coke, very competitive in the sea transport market. In the last few years, Tech has increased its coal production to meet the increasing demand.  Teck Coal operates in five coal mines in Elk Valley (British Columbia), a very rich land in mining operations, very important in the production of this material. Today, Elk Valley produces 80% of Canada’s metallurgical coal.

A great challenge
MAXAM started to provide its services to Elk Valley Coal Corporation, currently known as Teck Coal, in 2004 when it was awarded the explosives and initiation systems supplier contract in an Explosives Limited public tender. MAXAM faced this new challenge in record time, according to Stanton Johnson, MAXAM North America Western Divisions’ Vice-president: “To take on all these operations in 90 days was a great challenge. We had to hire and train 32 new employees, build 15 new loading trucks, install various silos and build a new emulsion plant in this time. With the mines’ help, MAXAM set a time schedule to carry out the operations’ maintenance. To begin with, we improved the emulsion plant in Elkview, so that it had the capacity for all the operations. Next, we installed added stock capacity for emulsion and we hired and trained operators for the additional plants.

With this approach, we were able to progressively introduce ourselves in various operations, starting by the smallest like Coal Mountain, followed by Line Creek and at last, Green Hills and Fording River. At the time we were awarded the contract, we were already prepared to supply the Elkview operation that had a monthly consumption of 2.500 tonnes of explosives. For approximately 60 days, the emulsion for the five mines was manufactured at the Elkview plant, until the new emulsion plant in Fording River was ready. During the time it supplied the five mines, the Elkview plant produced 21 tonnes per hour”.

Flexible solutions
Since 2004 MAXAM cooperates in the coal extraction process of Elk Valley with innovating solutions adapted to the land’s peculiarities and clients’ demands. “What makes MAXAM different from its competitors is its specialized personnel, a diligent service and its excellent products. Also, the flexibility in our service approach, always listening to our clients’ needs”, Stanton Johnson points out as MAXAM’s products and services main values.

Elk Valley
Elk Valley’s mines present many peculiarities that condition its exploitation. The Rocky Mountains, the climate, the coal’s transport to the Port of Vancouver 1200 kilometres away, where it is loaded on to a ship to be taken to China…These are relevant aspects that need to be considered. Mining in the Rocky Mountains presents many challenges: coal is extracted by blasting of the surplus rock, in some cases above and below the coal vein; this might sometimes mean only blasting residues and not coal. Most of Elk valley’s coal vein is on a slope of approximately 20%. Given its peculiarities, MAXAM, with a network of perforations, gathers enough information about the vein to efficiently design each blast. To do so, a series of shot holes are perforated and their bottom’s are studied to determine both how deep the vein is and if there is coal.

According to this information, the engineering team designs a blasting front and establishes how it should be charged. Once the blast has been carried out, coal is separated from the waste rock, and the coal is then taken to a washing station before being sent to the Port of Vancouver.

At Elk Valley’s five mines, MAXAM offers its “DTH” (Down the Hole) services. All the main raw materials necessary to manufacture explosives, including ammonic nitrate, the fuels and surfactants, are purchased directly from the mine. MAXAM also provides all the detonators, multipliers and a wide range of initiation systems to the mine.

In Elk Valley, three main types of ANFO bulk explosives are used at the different operations depending on the circumstances: relatively soft and dry conditions, harder terrains that require a higher VOD and a better fragmentation; and humid zones in which the explosives must be waterproof. MAXAM also offers initiation systems like ZIPDET, specially made for the Teck mines with optimal abrasion and power qualities, pentolite initiators, connectors, delay non electric detonators and other series of initiators. To face this increasing explosives demand, MAXAM has two bulk emulsion plants in Elk Valley: Batch System at the Elkview operation and a second plant at the Fording River operations, two identical treatment processes. These facilities, albeit having different manufacturing processes, were designed with the aim of responding to the products demand of the five mines in case one of them decreased its production for unexpected reasons.



Strong production
Today, Teck produces 25 million tonnes of coal per year at an estimated rate of 9 to 1 (for each ton of coal extracted, 9 tonnes are waste rock), and is expecting to increase its coal production to 30 million tonnes a year in 2012.

Bearing in mind these growth outlooks, with Teck’s new projection,MAXAM is now focused on continuing to offer and excellent service and technical support to Teck Coal”, MAXAM North America’s Western Division’s Vice-president points out. “We are going to improve our fleet of lorries’ availability investing in new lorries and also improve our current data transfer system. This year, we will start to work at the mines with a new system that will enable us to give explosives charge instructions to the bulk lorries using a navigator so that perforations will be able to be charged automatically by these”, Stanton Johnson adds, when also commenting the possibility of winning the tender, in the near future, of other mining operations owned by Teck Coal. Apart from this company, other important producers of the North American coal industry are looking into increasing their production in the coming years. May Grand Cache Coal who intends to increase its production in a 20 to 25% ratio, serve as an example.

With a significant position in North America, MAXAM intends to keep growing in this market with products and services adapted to the current times, always thinking of the coal mine operations’ needs and those of its clients. An industry that according to the outlooks will keep on growing, hand in hand with the world’s increasing energy demand.


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