Power in the Pilbara

 Remote mine sites are often like cities in the desert. With so many operations going on at once, and everything constantly moving, they need heavy duty, reliable and efficient sources of power to make sure everything doesn’t suddenly grind to a halt.

Previously, mines could simply use a number of diesel power generators to keep everything running, but with the carbon tax looming and its reduction of the diesel fuel rebate scheme, this is set to cost mining companies more than ever before.

So mines are now looking to a number of fairly innovative approaches for how they keep their sites operating as they become more aware of the ways in which they can actively reduce their carbon foot print, and reduce their pain under the carbon tax.

Some companies, such as Galaxy Resources, have turned to solar power to supply some of its demands.

Others like Fortescue are using an innovative hybrid approach.

As part of its massive fast track initiative, the miner has just signed a deal with GE Energy for dual fuel aeroderivative gas turbine packages for its US$ 8.4 billion Solomon Hub operations.

According to Fortescue Metals’ director of development, Peter Meurs, the miner needed "to rapidly develop our Solomon Hub and enable secure, low-cost production of iron ore for years to come, so we required a reliable and efficient power plant, GE was able to develop a fast track solution which met these demanding requirements for the hub".

Speaking to GE Energy’s sales director for power generation, Steve Graham, he told Australian Mining that it will supply two LM6000-PF dry low emissions dual fuel turbines for the miner’s 120MW power plant at its Solomon iron ore project.

The deal marks the first installation of the PF variant of the LM6000 in Australia.

Graham explained that these turbines will start out fully diesel operated, but will later convert to gas.

"These turbines have a unique capacity, as they can run on diesel and then convert to gas without needing a water injector to manage carbon emissions."

Hence the dry moniker.

The LM6000s are known as aeroderivative as the gas turbines were originally developed for aircraft engine technology.

Graham went on to say that these machines will be providing between 40MW and 50MW at more than 40% efficiency at 25° Celsius (and up to 50° Celsius with chilling) while maintaining nitrous oxide (NOx) levels of only 25 parts per million.

However, the technology has been known to work with NOx emissions of only 15 parts per million.

"The turbines have been built to ensure operations within the strictest emissions standards," Graham told Australian Mining.

The dry, low emissions turbines reportedly have a reliability rate of nearly 99%, and are able to achieve full generating capacity within only ten minutes. 

On top of this, the LM6000 enables lower fuel consumption per unit of power output than other technologies, providing fuel cost savings on top of the lower emissions of carbon dioxide and NOx.

A key aspect of the turbines is that "it allows for continual development, so the operator can build out their power supply as demand grows at the site," Graham explained.

Tim Rourke, the CEO of GE Energy Australia, stated that "our LM6000-PF aeroderivative technology is the best choice for mining applications such as Fortescue’s Solomon Hub, where reliability, flexibility and the ability to respond large load swings of the mine, while still maintaining grid stability, are essential to the success of plant operations".

The turbines themselves will be shipped from Houston, Texas in December, and will be installed onsite at the Solomon Hub in March 2012.

The plant is scheduled to enter commercial operation in the third quarter of next year.

While the LM6000-PF turbines will run on diesel fuel initially, it will switch to gas when the gas pipelines are available.


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