Photo: Courtesy of Vale and James Hodgins Photography

Symboticware: Lowering Energy Costs Underground

The mining sector is also ripe for environmental and energy conservation. Symboticware symbolizes the new breed of companies taking off in this field.

A tremendous amount of money is spent in mines around the world to provide sufficient ventilation of emissions from mobile diesel equipment. But Kirk Petroski, president and CEO of Symboticware of Sudbury, Ontario, says there’s a better way to ensure worker safety and reduce energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

Current ventilation standards are based on the amount of horsepower of mobile diesel equipment in an underground mine. Measuring instead the actual emissions, engine data and equipment’s location in a mine, says Petroski, opens up opportunities to turn down ventilation in areas where it may not be needed.

Nearly all the business of this small company – five years old, with eight full-time employees – is conducted with international mining firms.

His company has done just that by devising the SymBot – a standardized platform providing real-time monitoring of safety, production, maintenance and exhaust data, which analyzes underground emissions from diesel equipment.

Petroski estimates this system can lead to 40 per cent savings in energy costs and has the potential to reduce carbon dioxide (and greenhouse gas) emissions by up to 11,000 tons per mine per year.

“As energy consumption from ventilation fans within an underground mine can account for up to 50 per cent of (the operation’s) electricity costs, this represents a significant cost savings and minimizes the impact on the environment,” he says.

Symboticware is currently testing its technology in projects with major international mining companies like Brazil’s Vale and Switzerland’s Xstrata.

As mines are increasingly connected via fibre networks, Symboticware technology can be used to support more automated ventilation systems. The challenge lies in getting systems in place and running. “Fortunately global mining companies are making this a priority for their operations as they work to meet corporate and social responsibility objectives.”

Symboticware technology is also being used in mines being developed in Canada’s Far North, where there are strong concerns about potential environmental degradation. The company can provide everything from pre-construction monitoring to tailings and water monitoring.

Since 2009, Symboticware has been honing this expertise on Baffin Island for the Baffinland Iron Mines Mary River iron-ore project and Peregrine Diamonds.

Promoting CSR goals

As a result, Symboticware technology can help companies achieve their corporate social responsibility (CSR) objectives. “With an underground mine, they can demonstrate emissions monitoring and tie that into energy and greenhouse gas reductions.”

“About 30 per cent of our projects this year and next will be conducted outside Canada,” says Petroski. Many of these foreign projects or firms receive some financing from EDC to provide Canadian companies with access to supply opportunities. “That gives us export market development support when dealing with international mining companies.”

Last year, EDC helped Symboticware participate in matchmaking sessions with several foreign mining firms during a trade mission to Chile and Brazil. The company is now using EDC’s accounts receivable insurance for Chilean projects, “which is a very helpful way to mitigate foreign risk and maintain cash flow,” Petroski says.

In the next few years, Symboticware plans to raise growth capital, export to more foreign markets and expand into forestry and oil and gas – sectors that face issues similar to those of the mining industry.

Mining Success

  • Get involved in a trade association; it can help link you to foreign markets. Petroski learned about EDC through Sudbury’s Mining Association (SAMSSA), where he is now president.
  • Seek out programs from EDC, and federal and provincial trade services that support product development, commercialization and exporting.

Categories Clean Technologies, Mining & Energy

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