A new report by corporate consultants BDO predicts that within four years diesel machinery will not be used in new underground mines in Australia, and existing underground mines will have begun to phase them out.

According to BDO, this push will come from the financiers of new mines and potentially from government bodies too, who may even choose to ban diesel machines from new underground mines because of the health issues.

“Common acceptance of the health dangers that nano diesel particles present will take hold, and miners will have made strides towards the electrification of underground mines, leading to the country’s first all-electric underground mine,” says BDO’s global head of natural resources Sherif Andrawes.

The forecast is contained in BDO’s annual “predictions” of major trends in the industry.

Andrawes told The Driven that there are really two factors driving the switch to electric: health and economics.

On the health issue, Andrawes points to a WA government report that found that underground mines in W.A. use diesel widely, are exposing workers to higher than recommended levels of nano-diesel particulate matter (nDPM), a known carcinogen.

“The health implications of nDPM are known to extend beyond the lungs and the particles are small enough to diffuse throughout the body, and even penetrate the blood-brain barrier,” the government report notes, adding that the problem is worsening as mines get deeper as they chase better ore bodies.

The Department of Mines report suggests there is no obvious alternative because electric equipment is more costly, but Andrawes disputes this.

“From a financial point of view, the capital costs of acquiring new machines are quite high, but the operating costs can be reduced quite a bit, because of reduced downtime and maintenance, the lower cost of electricity versus fuel, and the reduced ventilation costs,” Andrawes says.

“Mine developers should be thinking about the total cost of ownership. And there is only one way this is likely to go, costs will go down and it will be even more cost effective.”

The machines are already available, or coming into production, from Land Cruisers that can be retro-fitted all the way up to giant Caterpillar machines and other big equipment.

Andrawes says it is not certain that governments will ban the use of diesel equipment in new underground mines, but he doesn’t rule it out. He says existing mines will find it more expensive to upgrade, but it will likely happen over time, and as up front costs fall.

It begs the question: Those same nano particles present the same threat to the health of commuters and residents in towns and cities?

Doctors for the Environment noted in a recent article on RenewEconomy that the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare calculated in 2011 that poor air quality causes around 3,000 premature deaths each year.

The major causes are coal- fired power stations and motor vehicles.

How long before diesel machines are also banned on Australia’s roads as they already are in major European cities?





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