What is one of the core challenges in the coal mining industry? Saving people, assets and infrastructure from fire.

In the coal industry, there are continual challenges that owners and operators face in ensuring consistent plant safety.

Some of the key challenges presented to the staff are fire prevention and control, corrosion in pipework and structures, and ensuring that vital power sources such as transformers are always operational.

The case studies below exemplify the challenges in the mining industry and how these can be overcome.

Fire & Explosion:

WHO? NRG Energy

WHERE? The Morgan Town Plant is a coal powered power station based in Maryland. NRG own the USA’s largest and more diverse power generation competitive portfolio. NRG are dedicated to smart and reliable energy sourcing, and emission reductions although coal is a significant part of the electricity generation.

WHAT? Fires and explosions pose a constant threat to the safety of miners and to the productive capacity of mines. Mine fires and explosions traditionally have ranked among the most devastating industrial disasters. The prevention and control of fire and explosion in mines is fundamental. On a mine site, fire hazards may occur in and around process plants, underground conveyors, static and mobile plants, draglines, workshops, substations, monitored control rooms and switch rooms. All mines have highly expensive and mission critical equipment that typically operate day and night under extremely hostile conditions, in vast, remote and difficult to access environments, especially on underground equipment.

Gaseous fire suppression systems are the preferred systems installed to protect the high value asset and safeguard operators and processes so as to guarantee business continuity.

WHY? Gaseous extinguishing systems are pressurised, and therefore exist in a dynamic state i.e. they can leak. As supported by the BS EN ISO 14520 regulation, if clean agent cylinders leak beyond 5% of contents or 10% of pressure they will not extinguish a fire, as they will be below their design concentration.  As the “golden standard” of clean agent systems,  BS EN ISO 14520 highlights the asset owner’s responsibility to check that the clean agents contents exist; that the protected space can be sealed; that the pipework used to discharge the clean agents are clear of particulates that can clog up the nozzles which reduces the amount of clean agent to the point where it cannot operate in the event of a fire.

HOW? After witnessing fire service experts undertaking ultrasonic liquid level indication in just minutes, NRG Energy were keen to change from their previous method of weighing which took over 15 minutes. The Portalevel® Max is an example of the technologically advanced techniques that the company are implementing to lead the way in safe and sustainable coal sourcing.  Portalevel® MAX is a handheld ultrasonic liquid level indicator to inspect CO2, clean agents and more liquefied gaseous agents, by one person in just 30 seconds  As a safety critical asset, the Morgan Town Plant saw the necessity in investing into their fire safety.

CASE STUDY 2: Corrosion in Metal Work

WHO? Vales Point Power Station

WHERE? Delta, Australia. The coal fired power station is at the southern end of lake Macquarie. This power station was built in the 1960’s as a four-unit station, but now operates two 660 MW generating units. The power station is owned and operated by Power International, with the capacity of around 1,320 megawatts, providing 24 hours of around the clock electricity.

WHAT? Corrosion in power plants leads to costly repairs, prolonged maintenance, material losses, poor performance and, if left untreated, failure. In power plants, corrosion is the primary factor leading to costly and critical downtimes. When corrosion affects systems carrying steam or hot water—such as pipes—material or welds may fail, causing bodily injury or death. Water, steel and dissolved oxygen within boiler units causes boiler tubes to oxidize and corrode. The corrosion forms grooves within the tubes that lead to cracks and boiler failures. Corrosion can account for up to 75 percent of a plant’s arrest time during maintenance and up to 54 percent of production costs.

HOW? To protect against the threat of corrosion, Vales Point Power Station bought a Portagauge® for testing normal structure and stainless steel, so that they could monitor corrosion rates. The Portagauge® 3 is a single-echo portable thickness gauge. The quick, simple and hardy Portagauge® 3 allows accuracy of ±0.1mm even on corroded, challenging and some plastic surfaces. With a 50 hour battery life, measuring thickness ranges between 1.5mm to 99.9mm and a variety of verified testing materials such as steel, quartz and glass PVC, the Portagauge® 3 provides the great amount versatility needed to suit a diversity of safety needs. The handheld highly dependable unit is ideal for a wide range of industrial applications such as fire cylinders, bulk heads, pipework, chemical equipment and oil storage tanks.

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