Already on site
Three major oilsands operators are already using MCS. Although some of the technology is proprietary, the basic construct of the systems is not.
Albian Sands has been using a semi-mobile crushing plant manufactured by Krupp since 2002. This particular semi-mobile MCS has a capacity to accept 1,200 tonnes of mined oilsand at a time and can process 14,000 million tonnes per hour.
Chris Zorica, manager of public affairs at Albian Sands, says “We continue to look at various types of technology to improve our mining process, both from an economical and an environmental standpoint.”
Syncrude Canada is also looking at using new MCS technology to mitigate common oilsands-related environmental issues.
“Syncrude has been in operations for 30 years and the company prides itself on being innovative in the use of leading-edge technologies in our oilsands operations,” says spokesman Alain Moore.
Syncrude is currently testing compact slurry preparation technology. The vision is for shovels to feed oilsands directly into a MCS and then into the in-pit bitumen production system slurry equipment. The company has been testing the new technology since 2006 in a pilot project at its North mine.
Suncor Energy is currently testing a MCS on a commercial scale. Although some portions of the unit are designed by MMD, much of the system is Suncor’s proprietary technology.
“Mobile mining systems are an example of Suncor and the oilsands industry’s constant drive for technological innovation. We expect to use this new mobile mining technology to strengthen our operational performance and to mitigate socio-economic and environmental concerns that are synonymous with oilsands development,” says Brad Bellows, a company spokesman.
The mobile mining equipment currently in operations at Suncor’s mine site cost $150 million. Due to the size of the unit, it was constructed on site and it took about 18 months to construct. The unit Suncor is testing right now has been running at 5,500 tonnes of ore per hour. This is the equivalent of close to 15 loads of ore in the largest trucks which have a capacity of 380 tonnes each.
“With the growth of our mining operations, and the steady march of the mine face away from processing facilities, we would require many more heavy hauler trucks if we continue to use only truck and shovel operations. As well as the capital cost of the trucks, this would mean a corresponding increase in maintenance costs and workforce with about 10 operations and maintenance personnel per truck.”
Bellows says this unit has performed very well in both summer and winter operating conditions. The seasonal variation from highs of +35 degrees Celsius in the summer to lows of -35 degrees Celsius in the winter is the biggest test of new equipment in northern Alberta.
“With the success we’ve seen so far, we now have plans for five more units to be in operation over the next five years. There are always refinements that need to be made when a new technology is introduced and we expect further tweaking of this mobile mining technology as we move forward.”
Bellows says with Suncor’s new proposed Voyageur South mine, the company expects to begin to replace part of its truck and shovel mining fleet in favour of MCS.
However, he explains trucks will continue to be part of Suncor’s operations as they expect to use heavy haulers to transport overburden in mines that are using mobile mining equipment for ore transportation.
The oilsands sector’s three largest operators continue to use existing semi and mobile MCS with the goal of perfecting the new mining technology to further mitigate the environmental and socio-economic challenges from oilsands mining.
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