Engineering & Mining Journal

JUN 2013

Engineering and Mining Journal - Whether the market is copper, gold, nickel, iron ore, lead/zinc, PGM, diamonds or other commodities, E&MJ takes the lead in projecting trends, following development and reporting on the most efficient operating pr

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O N L I N E A N A LY S I S A Promising New Development in Coal Analysis By Richard Woodward Productivity growth in the U.S. coal industry from 1985 to 2000 was remarkable, from about 5,200 tons/ miner per year in 1985 to almost 15,000 tons/miner per year in 2000, a compound annual growth rate of almost 8% per year (See Figure 1). Admittedly, some of those efficiency gains can be attributed to the Powder River Basin's increasing share of production and its scale advantage. Yet, productivity growth of 8% is hard to ignore. What's equally remarkable is that this growth occurred without any significant breakthroughs in mining technology. Everything that characterized stateof-the-art mining equipment in 2000— from longwalls to heavy media cyclones to high-speed rail loadouts—already existed in 1985, although belt speeds and haul truck capacities continued to increase, and mines derived improved efficiencies from technologies such as GPS tracking and wireless communication. However, productivity declined in the first decade of the 2000s and that is to some extent reflective of the relative lack of innovation and/or the increased regulatory environment. That same plateauing occurred in the sampling and analysis part of the coal industry. There haven't been any breakthroughs in sampling since the sweep-arm sampler; lab analysis equipment is essentially the same as it was in 1985; and online analyzers have experienced only incremental improvement as well over that time period. However, based upon some recent field results at a large western U.S. coal mine, that drought in innovation may be about to end. Figure 1: U.S. coal mining productivity trend. Figure 2: Sampling system/analyzer block diagram. Mines Need Timely Information In early 2010, a Powder River Basin (PRB) mine decided it was worth the risk to try out a new online coal analysis technology. Like most PRB producers this mine works two areas of the pit simultaneously. Despite the widely-held perception that coal quality is consis92 E&MJ • JUNE 2013 Figure 3: LIBS Powder River Basin coal spectrum. www.e-mj.com

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