Conquering the pitfalls of transporting coal
Transport operators need to consider the rising black market for coal, while operators in the mine face challenging road conditions. MARISKA MORRIS investigates the obstacles encountered when transporting this valuable commodity.
The mining industry is undeniably a valuable part of the South African economy. It contributed 6,8 percent or R335 billion to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017. According to the Facts and Figures 2017 report by the Minerals Council South Africa (MCSA), the industry exported minerals to the value of around R307 billion.
Despite a global push toward more renewable energy sources, coal remains a valuable commodity and an important part of the mining industry. The MCSA reports that the coal sector employed 81 962 people in 2017 with profits of around R22,4 million. The international demand for coal also remains high.
The industry exported around R61 million of coal in 2017. In the same year, China consumed 3,5-billion tonnes of coal, according to Vuslat Bayoglu, executive chairperson of Canyon Coal. With coal in great demand, the black market for coal is also growing, with a special focus on the transport of coal.
Transporting coal is expensive. Lisa Steyn, in an article for Business Day, quotes energy expert Chris Yelland, who estimates that transporting coal costs around R850 per tonne, which includes R300 to R350 in procurement costs. With 200 trucks transporting around 33 t each, Eskom moves an estimated 205 000 t of coal a month.
Steyn quotes Yelland: “At a cost of R500 a tonne, Eskom could incur costs of some R100 million a month in transport costs alone to get the coal from Medupi to Kendal and Kusile by road.” Despite the costs, Eskom increased the number of trucks transporting coal over the December festive season.
While the power generator plans to divert half of the 40-million tonnes of coal currently transported by road to rail over the next five years, transport operators and coal-fired power stations need to be concerned with potential black-market dealings.
According to a recent Carte Blanche documentary, drivers of smaller transport operators are being targeted to assist in stealing coal, which is then sold to coal-fired power stations.
Closer to the mines, road conditions are the biggest challenge. Brad Castle, product marketing manager at Bell Equipment Company South Africa, notes: “The main challenges of moving coal are the varying road and climatic conditions that need to be considered. The coal pits usually contain water, while the roads in the blasting and mining areas of open-cast mines are poor underfoot, wet and not well maintained.
“Many are deeply rutted. The roads out of the pit are generally better maintained, but also tend to be wet and can feature tight turns. Good traction is generally required for these roads. By comparison, mine haulage roads are well maintained and have dust suppression. However, in wet, rainy conditions these roads tend to deteriorate rapidly and are prone to developing ruts and slippery sections on inclines and declines.”
Bell Equipment offers its clients a range of Kamaz vehicles designed for these challenging conditions. The Kamaz 6×6 Tipper is an ideal example. With its 20-t payload, the vehicle can be used for haulage from pit, discards back into pit and haulage over longer distances within the mine site.
“The Kamaz 6×6 Tipper is ideal for within the mine site where a higher speed is required with lower engine speed to provide optimum fuel economy. This truck is suitable for short and medium haulage distances and
can accommodate a trailer for medium hauls,” Castle explains.
The vehicle has a single-wheel configuration to reduce tyre cuts and sidewall damage. It is fitted with longitudinal lock in the transfer case and axle to assist in increasing traction and reduce wheelspin. As is standard with the drivetrain, it also has traverse wheel locks on the rear axle.
“In addition, the truck has a high- or low-range transfer case for the optimum usage of the transmission gear ratios and speed as the terrain dictates. The suspension has a longer travel than a conventional tipper truck. The Kamaz 6×6 truck expertly fills the gap between conventional 6×4 and 8×4 tipper trucks and articulated dump trucks (ADTs),” Castle notes.
“While it can outperform these vehicles in any off-road applications, it is not designed to handle extreme in-pit conditions like an ADT.”
Road conditions are not the only challenge for transport operators within the mine. They need to be aware of the mine safety regulations, required service intervals, truck uptime, driver comfort and potential fatigue.
“Driver fatigue is a constant concern that impacts on safety and productivity. A mining operation in South Africa is a 24-hour business where machines and vehicles work long hours. Machine availability and reliability are of critical importance and is achieved through thorough and regular machine inspections followed by a comprehensive service and maintenance schedule,” Castle says.
He suggests a fleet of vehicles on rotation as the best way to ensure a productive environment that allows for inspections and preventative maintenance. It is also important to make sure the vehicle (or machine) is suited to the particular site and application.
Using the Kamaz 6×6 Tipper in the pit, for example, will surely cut into the lifespan of the vehicle as this isn’t the purpose for which the vehicle was designed.
“An efficient loader-truck combination ensures that both machines are operating optimally and that waiting time is minimised. While this is so important, however, none of it will work unless the site is managed correctly. Site management is, therefore, as important as the equipment on site,” Castle says.
Whether it is navigating the challenging road conditions in the mine, or battling with black-market dealings, transporting coal is a challenging business, but an essential one to ensure homes and industry are powered.