Designing fit for purpose transportation solutions

Joel Shirriff, Global Practice Lead, Terminals & Transportation, discusses the importance of developing fit for purpose transportation solutions for each new project and commodity, rather than taking a one size fits all approach.

It goes without saying that the logistics requirements for an iron ore operation that produces 100 million tonnes per year (Mt/y) will be different than those of a copper mine that produces concentrate at less than one percent of that rate. This is the reason why it is critical to develop fit for purpose transportation solutions for each new project and commodity, rather than taking a one size fits all approach. In determining which transportation and terminal facilities make best sense for the export of your mineral product, there are several design and market factors to consider:

  • Is the cargo high volume and low value or low volume and high value?
  • Does the commodity have any transport restrictions or risks that need to be addressed?
  • What is the mine life and does production vary throughout that period?
  • How large are parcel sizes and what is the frequency of shipments?
  • Where is the final product destination?

Size does matter

When developing terminal and transportation solutions for large coal and iron ore operations, the common factor in all these facilities is the large size of everything. Unit trains moving nearly 20,000 tonnes of cargo continuously cycle from the mine to the terminal and are dumped to open stockpiles with space for over a million tonnes of cargo. Bulk handling equipment, operating at 16,000 tonnes per hour (t/h), loads ships that carry up to 400,000 tonnes. Everything is BIG, but because these facilities move so much cargo, the capital and operating costs generally don’t have a significant impact on the unit rate (cost per tonne) for transportation—giving miners the flexibility of spare system capacity.

Conversely, when moving smaller annual volumes of product, the logistics system must be very efficient to reduce the cost impact to the value of the cargo. This is where a holistic approach to the development of the project’s transportation system is especially important. In these cases, you need to understand how to cost-effectively develop terminal facilities for lower volume products. Clearly, whether the throughput is 100,000 t/y or 10 Mt/y, the system requirements will be unique in each case.

Facilitating future expansion

The possibility of future expansion is another important factor in a holistic approach to developing the transportation infrastructure for a mining project. While many new base metals mining projects have well-defined mine life and production schedules that won’t require future expansion, high volume bulk mining cargos like iron ore, coal and potash are often associated with massive mineral deposits that could be exploited in the future, depending on market demands.

When designing a major bulk terminal facility, it’s easy to allow for space for expansion through parallel streams of product flow—like secondary train receiving, storage facilities or even additional berths for ship loading. However, this only works if there’s land available for the expansion. If there isn’t, you need to get more innovative. For instance, Ausenco recently helped a client double the throughput capacity of an existing potash terminal, without impacting their land-lease footprint, by speeding up the conveyor belts and customizing the transfer chutes to reduce dust with increased flow. We validated the improvements with simulation modelling of the terminal capacity and executed the work with staged down-time on different parts of their facility to allow operations to continue during construction.

Flexibility for varying production rates

Annual production of a mining project is an important evaluation criterion in the holistic approach to transportation needs, but for many projects the production rates will vary dramatically over the life of the mine. In some projects, this may simply be a swing between one product and another, so total volumes won’t change. In these cases, the logistics system just needs to be compatible between the two products and only needs to be designed for the peak year of production over the mine life.

However, in many projects, the annual production rate may range from –50% to +100% from the average over the project life. Not surprisingly, this creates an interesting challenge in the design of the logistics system and raises questions about how to accommodate the peak rates without over-investing in “regret capital” for moving product in the lower producing years. Future articles in this thought leadership series discuss options for either sharing infrastructure or re-purposing existing facilities, both of which are good things to consider in providing a flexible logistics system. That said, if the peak production rate only lasts for one or two years, it may make better sense to design permanent operations for the average throughput and rent temporary capacity at another facility. Similarly, if a logistics system is scalable—like containerized bulk handling—additional units can be leased for peak periods and returned or sold when production rates drop toward the end of mine life.

Our experience

With over 90 years of industry experience, Ausenco has supported more than 500 bulk cargo operations and designed 80% of all slurry pipelines worldwide. Drawing on our extensive in-house technical expertise, we do more than provide unbiased opinions on how best to move your product from Mine to Market. We also deliver fully integrated transportation logistics systems that are fit for purpose and work holistically with both upstream production facilities and the downstream distribution network.

Looking for support on your next project? Our team of experts are ready to help, reach out to Joel Shirriff to learn more.

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