Total steps ahead of the hydraulic fluids game

Total has introduced the fire-resistant HYDRANSAFE HFC-E hydraulic fluid that not only reduces fire hazards in underground mines, but also delivers higher equipment reliability.

Up to half of all fire incidences in underground mines can be caused by hydraulic leakages, earning hydraulic fluids a reputation in the mining industry for being a sensitive subject matter.

Total Lubrifiant head of technical (industrial lubricants) and former global mining & key accounts manager David Kupiec says an increasing amount of mine sites are faced with this safety risk as hydraulic hoses are known to burst and can lead to fires. 

“The case of underground fires due to hydraulic leakages has been well-documented in many articles,” the Paris-based manager tells Australian Mining.

“More and more authorities are asking mining companies to find a solution for this. But it’s not simple to find a solution because until now, there wasn’t any available in the market that would perfectly match the mining conditions.”

Total has become a pioneer by developing a breakthrough product called HYDRANSAFE HFC-E, a high-performance fire-resistant fluid that is suitable for use in hydraulic systems and underground mobile equipment such as drills, loaders and trucks.

Currently, the mining industry’s use of vegetable oil-based hydraulic fluids remains widespread.

It has advantages in that fluids that are derived from vegetable oil are less flammable than standard petroleum mineral-based hydraulic fluids.

However, although vegetable oil-based fluids have a lower fire hazard, they still burn and pose reliability risks to the mine, according to Kupiec, who leads the development of the HYDRANSAFE HFC-E.

While HYDRANSAFE HFC-E eliminates this risk, it surpasses the strengths of vegetable oil and is superior to other standard mineral oil due to its biodegradability.

Total Lubrifiant’s global product manager (hydraulic fluids) Aimilia Neroutsou says HYDRANSAFE HFC-E boasts four key features of hydraulic fluids: fire resistance, highly improved wear performance, non-toxicity and biodegradability.

It is also developed on the existing concept of water-based hydraulic fluids, but with additional molecules added to HYDRANSAFE HFC-E, it results in a higher mechanical performance that meets the standard and requirements of the mining sector.

“Mobile mining equipment is exposed to severe shocks and vibrations, so you need a stronger mechanical performance for your hydraulic fluids,” Neroutsou says.

“For HYDRANSAFE HFC-E, we added several molecules inside our water-based formulation that provide anti-wear characteristics so that equipment can withstand the extreme shocks of harsh mining operations.”

Total’s HYDRANSAFE HFC-E formula is designed to be compatible with water by absorbing water pollutants and will therefore no longer cause the common problem of machine wear.

“We did a trial with a major Tier 1 underground mine that was facing considerable safety and operational issues due to the type of oil they were using in the mine site, which was the vegetable oil,” Kupiec says.

“Due to the high humidity of the mining environment, water came into the system. As you know, water and oil don’t mix very well. This resulted in a high level of wear in the drills.

“They then made the switch to HYDRANSAFE HFC-E due to its ability to absorb water. Immediately after, the level of pollutants went down during the trial period of 2.5 months.

“When they went back to the standard hydraulic fluid, their wear levels went up again, proving HYDRANSAFE HFC-E’s superior mechanical performance compared with any other fire-resistant products.

“Selecting the right fluid is really critical for increasing equipment reliability.”

Acknowledging HYDRANSAFE HFC-E’s safety and environmental benefits, German original equipment manufacturer (OEM) GHH Group has approved the fluid’s use for specialised underground equipment.

Considering that testing for HYDRANSAFE HFC-E with GHH only began in early 2020, Kupiec says it is quite an achievement to receive an OEM’s approval within such a short period of time.

“It confirms that there is a need for this product in the mining industry,” he says.

“We have field engineers around the world that are ready to share their best practices, including in preventing the fluid from getting into contact with other engine oil in the equipment. We are ready to work with mining companies to implement this solution.”

While the mining sector will be a core market for the HYDRANSAFE HFC-E, Neroutsou believes that other sectors that operate in an underground environment such as tunnelling and steel manufacturing will also benefit from this new product development.

“We are the first to offer this technology to Tier 1 mines, because safety comes first in a lot of industries, including mining. We have the same principle here at Total,” she concludes.

This article also appears in the February issue of Australian Mining.

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