Cleaner mining, from the inside out

Cleaner mining, from the inside out

There’s no doubt that technology helps mining companies drive performance – but technology in fuels and lubes? JACO DE KLERK attended Shell’s 2012 Mining Day and discovered what its Commercial Fuels and Lubes department, with support from Shell Global Solutions, is doing for its mining customers.

Maximising production time and equipment longevity are key to any mining operation, but mining is all about extremes – whether it’s high operating temperatures, below-freezing conditions, remote locations or tough terrain. On top of all that, there’s the need for continuous operation that often sees heavy-duty equipment working for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This can all have a hugely adverse effect on the lifespan
of equipment.

So what can lubricants and fuels do to counter all these challenges? In 2009, Shell reportedly spent US$1,3 billion (R11,61 billion) on research and development (R&D) alone, aiming to create lubricants and fuels that will optimise equipment performance. It also employs approximately 30 000 technical R&D staff across the world.

Such big investments must surely deliver big returns? Shell certainly thinks so. Its Shell Diesel Extra with fuel economy formula is one example. This fuel has been created to keep engines operating at peak conditions, which it does through various means – the most prominent being its ability to help keep fuel injectors clean.

According to Raymond Abraham, commercial technical manager for Shell South Africa, fuel injectors are designed to meter fuel to a high degree of accuracy. They are thus high precision components. “The correct behaviour of the engine depends on the injector doing its job properly,” he says. “If it doesn’t, there will be repercussions in terms of noise, smoke and emissions.”

The tip of the injector is, however, subject to very harsh conditions as it is in direct contact with the combustion process (both in pre-chamber and direct-injection engines). “The solid matter products resulting from combustion are deposited on the tip and can alter the operation of the injector significantly,” says Abraham. “This can result in the engine no longer functioning as designed.”

This is where Shell Diesel Extra with its fuel economy formula steps in. Its detergent additives help to keep the fuel injectors clean. “High doses of these additives can partially clean an already heavily choked injector, while smaller doses can maintain injectors at an acceptably clean level, which ensures correct operation,” explains Abraham.

A clean fuel injector means a reduction of the fall-off in engine performance, reduced maintenance costs, lower CO2 emissions and smoke – and can lead to a three percent saving of fuel.

When deposits build up with regular diesel (without the fuel economy formula), says Abraham, fuel consumption increases by around three percent,  engine power decreasing by around the same percentage.

This can have a huge impact on both operating costs and environmental impact if one considers that a Caterpillar 793 truck consumes, on average, 140 litres of fuel an hour and typically works 5 000 hours a year. “By reducing the fuel of a single truck by three percent, there can be an estimated reduction of 55,6 tonnes of CO2 per year,” says Abraham.

Another benefit of Shell Diesel Extra is the anti-rust formulation it contains. The formulation creates a protective layer between metal surfaces and water molecules, which prevents rust from forming on the components. This in turn prevents corrosion and promotes longevity.

Diesel Extra also foams less during the refuelling process, which means faster filling, fewer spills, greater safety – and more fuel in the tank.

It’s clear that Shell’s R&D investments are keeping it at the technological forefront, having a positive impact not only on the mining industry’s bottom line, but on the environment as well. 

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