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26 August 2019

Coal Evolution at Borodinsky Open-Pit Mine

Technology has changed the coal industry. Extraction has become easier and faster, the risks of accidents have decreased and the reliability of production activities is definitely higher. Machines are getting better and better; they are becoming smarter and more powerful. Sometimes, it seems that they are about to replace humans. However, time passes and innovations, no matter how disruptive they are, rely on living people. People who are not as resistant, many times more vulnerable, but in their mouth, standard phrases about love for one’s business find their true meaning.

The Borodinsky open-pit mine named after the legendary Soviet Minister of Coal Industry, Mikhail Ivanovich Shchadov, is the largest company and flagship of open-pit coal mining, not only in the Krasnoyarsk region but in the whole Russia. It is included in the structure of a regional division of Siberian Coal Energy Company (SUEK).
Commercial reserves of the Borodinsky open-pit mine are 600 million tonnes. In 2018, for the first time in the last decade, the company reached the target of 20 million tonnes

This is the first and so far the only enterprise in the domestic coal industry that has recorded one billion tonnes of coal mined at open-pit mine. This important event happened in February 2016. Today, about 22 million tonnes of coal are extracted annually. Mined products are shipped to almost all Siberian CHPPs, along with utilities and defence companies of the Far East.

The construction of the open-pit mine began after the end of World War II. In 1949, it was put into commercial operation, and in 2019, it celebrated its 70th anniversary. The area of the minefield where coal is being extracted exceeds 2,000 hectares. The length of the open-pit mine is more than seven kilometres, with a width of two kilometres. We can witness it now. Nevertheless, there was a time when workers used picks and shovels in order to mine coal, while the rocks were transported by wheelbarrows.

As for the first Kostromich excavator, it was only introduced at the mine in January 1946. Later, miners tried to replace it with German machinery but failed because of the harsh Siberian winter. Gears in the chassis often broke down, and machines were idle for a long time due to repairs, so the decision was made to use only Russian excavators. This rule is still obeyed.

Approximately 40 units of heavy-duty, high-performance machinery extract coal at the Borodinsky open-pit mine today. ERP-2500 bucket-wheel excavators are operated only at this mine. By the way, in 2016, one of these machines loaded the first billionth tonne of coal produced there.

By their dimensions, ERP-2500 are as tall as 10-storey buildings and their weight is 1,860 tonnes. The bucket wheel diameter, the teeth of which 'bite' into coal seams, is eight metres. These giant machines extract over three thousand tonnes of rock mass per hour.

They were put into operation in the Soviet time. Since then, all machines have gone through several stages of modernisation: SUEK-Krasnoyarsk implements a long-term programme aimed at maintaining the capacity of these bucket-wheel units with gradual replacement of electrics, mechanics and other equipment. However, no one is looking for a replacement. According to mine workers, similar machines do not exist anywhere in the world.

'Engineers put much effort into this machinery, so it is perfect in itself. Besides, we have people who know how to service and upgrade it,' Vladimir Artemiev, SUEK's Deputy CEO and Chief Operations Officer, says. 'Of course, technologies advance and this process cannot be stopped. Just 20 years ago, a bucket-wheel excavator was controlled by levers, now by joysticks. Previously, we had to stop our excavators for check and inspected them systematically from all sides. Currently, electronics are used for this purpose. We now see the status of various excavator systems on the screen. Thus we can quickly find any faults and defects.'

Now, bucket-wheel excavators are tested using an auto-excavation mode. They will work almost without human intervention: the operator will only need to control the process. In fact, this is the first try of 'unmanned' technology on such machines in the coal mining industry.

'It took about a year to develop this technology. If the tests are successful, I think that we will launch it full-time by the year end,' Andrey Fedorov, General Director of SUEK-Krasnoyarsk, says.

Commercial reserves of the Borodinsky open-pit mine reach 600 million tonnes. In 2018, for the first time in the last decade, the company exceeded the target of 20 million tonnes, having mined 21.6 million tonnes of coal. In 2019, this figure might be increased by another 10 percent, and by the end of 2020, they plan to bring production to the level of 26 million tonnes per year.

If we load all the coal mined at the Borodinsky open-pit mine into one train, its length will be more than 200,000 kilometres, so it would go around the equator 6.5 times.

The mine operates for 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, even in winter at minus 40 degrees. Machines may be OK, but people... Someone may call it a feat. However, for local miners, this is a normal job. CHPPs always need coal, therefore, frequent 'cigarette breaks' are impossible.

'We have always achieved production targets. In any weather and under the most difficult circumstances, this has never been a subject of discussions. Everyone understood that the need for coal was growing. So, people just did their job,' Anatoly Otcheskikh recalls.

He came to Borodino in 1974, as a very young person, for his job placement after graduating from Sverdlovsk Mining Institute. He started as an ordinary electrician but retired as Director of the Borodino Repair and Mechanical Plant, a service company affiliated to SUEK-Krasnoyarsk.

'The most valuable piece of advice I have ever received was from my senior colleagues. The main thing is not to be afraid of work, that’s what they told me,' Anatoly says. 'I had a hard time not once or twice, but these words always helped me go on,' he adds.

In the centre of Borodino, a monument was erected in honour of the first billion tonnes of coal mined. The names of 268 miners are carved on it. They are full holders of the Miner Glory badge and the Heroes of Labour. This is to express gratitude for their glorious work and to be an example for future generations. Everyone knows these people in Borodino: the town is small and almost every resident is somehow related to mining.

According to Nikolay Laletin, Director of SUEK-Krasnoyarsk's Borodino branch, 1,500 people work at the mine today. As technology develops, so does the mining occupation: risks and physical load are now lower, but there is more brainwork and a more critical need for highly qualified professionals. Regional universities supply the Borodinsky open-pit mine with personnel; graduates are offered additional training after the start of employment.

Inter-generational continuity is not an empty phrase for local miners. Alexander and Nikolay Germenchuks represent a whole dynasty of Borodino miners.

'If we name everyone, our total work experience will be at least 200 years,' they say. An impressive figure, but the miners do not appear to be joking.

First, their mother worked at the mine, then they (and another brother) took employment themselves, now their children.

Both speak of their work in a surprisingly similar way: 'The main thing is to love what you do.'

This seems like a simple recipe, but sometimes a lifetime is not enough to understand it. Borodino miners can.

In September 2019, based on the Berezovsky open-pit mine (also part of SUEK) in the Sharypovsky district of the Krasnoyarsk region, an industrial advanced processing unit with a capacity of 30,000 tonnes of coal per year is scheduled for operation, followed by an increase of up to 60,000 tonnes per year. Siberian Briquette smokeless fuel will become one of the new products. They are produced using technology developed by Siberian Coal Energy Company in cooperation with scientists.
This fuel boasts increased heat transfer and is extremely cost-efficient. When used in domestic stoves and boiler rooms, its consumption is 1.5-2 times less in comparison to conventional coal, according to Sergey Stepanov, Head of the Innovative Coal Processing Directorate at SUEK-Krasnoyarsk, one of the developers of the smokeless fuel technology.

In addition, when burning, such briquette gives off several times less harmful emissions compared to 'normal' coal. This is confirmed by both laboratory studies and measurements taken by the regional Centre for Environmental Management and Environmental Protection Activities.

Together with the Ministry of Ecology of the Krasnoyarsk region and the Krasnoyarsk city administration, SUEK ran an experiment in February-March 2019 to assess the possibility of reducing the load on atmospheric air by cutting emissions from private homes and other autonomous heat sources using smokeless fuel.

According to Mikhail Mangilev, Deputy General Director of SUEK-Krasnoyarsk, the project involved more than 9,000 households from the regional centre who each received 300 kilograms of free briquettes for experimental burning. 'During the experiment, a mobile laboratory of the regional Ministry of Ecology recorded a halving of the concentration of carbon monoxide, nitric dioxide and oxide and suspended solids in the air. The concentration of benzapyrene fell by four to six times, and on some days, its content was below the detection level,' Mangilev said.

The dissemination of positive experience related to the use of SUEK's smokeless fuel is included in the comprehensive action plan to reduce emissions of pollutants into the air of Krasnoyarsk, approved by the Russian government.
SUEK once rediscovered the concept of 'responsible subsoil user' for the industry. The company is actively engaged in land rehabilitation and restoration, and introduces treatment facilities for mechanical and biological treatment of quarry water at all open-pit mines; after drainage, this water gets into water bodies. Since 2015, the Borodinsky open-pit mine has been annually releasing young fish into the Yenisei, the main river of the Krasnoyarsk region.

Fish stocking, tree planting and soil rehabilitation are called 'actual ecology' in a professional language. It is more expensive than simply making offset payments to the government, but SUEK believes that the result is worth it.<br>
Source: Rossiyskaya Gazeta
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