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Managing mine dust pollution in near real time leveraging IoT and Analytics

Managing mine dust pollution in near real time leveraging IoT and Analytics

The pollution levels are rapidly increasing due to continuous mining. This causes the air quality to deteriorate around mining complexes. On the other hand, increased focus on environmental compliance has led to monitoring and regulating the environment at mines and mineral/ore handling points. The dangerous emissions and dust generated due to mining operations have a significant impact on the habitats, environment and the equipment in the mines.

The poisonous gases, mineral particles getting mixed in the water bodies, air and the food chain are considered the adverse impacts of mining. The dust is generated from vehicle movement on haulage roads, excavation, crushing, milling, conveyors belts, blasting, loading, unloading, wind erosion of stockpiles and overburden. The gases, harmful particles emanate from vehicles, beneficiation plants at the mines and material handling points at mines and ports.

These dust and emissions are toxic in nature and impact flora and fauna, soil and air quality. Presently, the dust is controlled as a scheduled activity with process control systems and spray trucks. All the present systems work on dust suppression process control methods, based on measurement at a location and actionable insights are time-based schedules.

There are two identified objectives to reduce the impact of mining-related pollution –

  1. Reduction of dust and harmful impurities which impacts water, environment and living beings
  2. Optimized real-time use of resources – water, equipment, chemical, manpower, energy

Research done by CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) – around the theme of the dust control and its impact reveals “When less dust is generated, less has to be removed from the mine air”. In a coal mine, thousands of truck trips covering millions of kilometres per annum, account for nearly 30-40% of costs incurred in the surface mine, hence it becomes essential to minimize the costs. With the rise of Industry 4.0 and Internet of Things (IoT), enables the mining industry to integrate the entire mining process creating opportunities to build Dust Conditioning solutions.

Dust Conditioning Solution using IoT sensors and analytics

Mining industry is transforming to the ‘Digital mine’, resulting in connectivity between equipment systems in real time, enabling real-time analysis and decision making.

There are numerous use cases of IoT and Analytics solutions across industries such as mining, power generation, ports, construction sites and irrigation.  Real-time IoT and Analytics based solutions, will ensure safety, reliability and compliance with the environmental standards set by the statutory and regulatory bodies. Real time IoT and Analytics solutions provide real time monitoring, extrapolation of dust and moisture. Subsequently evaluated actions to contain the dust as per the required optimal moisture level is known as “Dust Conditioning”. Let us look at a three-step process to design a real time monitoring IoT and Analytics solution for Dust Monitoring and Management.

Step 1 – IoT based solution for Real time monitoring (based on sensors and data API’s) of the key parameters in a surface mine through platforms located at a distance ranging between 100 to 500 m separation.

  • Moisture, Dust, Gas, Rain
  • Air quality
  • Weather insights (Data API’s from any global weather platform)
  • Network of physical monitoring of points
  • Tank, Tanker water levels
  • Measuring of relevant pollutants

Step 2 Extrapolating and analyzing the real time insights using Analytics engines – the data collected are analyzed and extrapolated using Analytics Engines to provide unique insights such as –

  • Extrapolation and analytics of dust level – haul road
  • Extrapolation and analytics of moisture level – haul road
  • Collation of dust and moisture level plotting
  • Definition of variable functions for calculation of target moisture
  • Cognitive analytics of historical data and inputs from weather station
  • Calculation of delta moisture level requirement from the benchmark for dust suppression
  • Calculation of water requirement plotting for the driver or operator in the specific area
  • Decision Framework – Determination of water/chemical (suppressants) quantity requirement in volume at specific location – graphical display to the operator for ease of usage
  • Feedback of the actions for the next cycle for optimal use of resources and learn from managing situations

The monitoring and analytics used for this solution is for a haulage road as visualized in figure 1.

The dust generated can be monitored and plotted on real time as shown below on the entire haulage road (location) of the mine with a proper heat map where the dust levels are high or above the threshold value. Here dust level of greater than 120 mg/m3 is considered higher than the accepted value for dust levels.

Figure 1 – Dust level at Haul road

The real time moisture level at the same location is also plotted as below, the lower the moisture the higher the dust levels. The 7% moisture levels help reduce dust levels for coal particles.

Figure 2 – Moisture level at haul road

The Overlap of dust and Moisture level provides insights around zones that have the highest requirement of moisture so that the dust levels can be minimized (Moisture level is scaled up by 10 to showcase in the graph).

Figure 3 – Dust and moisture level at haul road

Figure 4 – The delta moisture required at the location of haul road

Step 3 Design and Development of a Real Time Dashboard – the dashboard will provide the real time information related to dust, moisture and heat map and insights around where the maximum suppressant is required. The dashboard will also provide insights on water level, tanker positions, driver/operator and weather. These insights will be evaluated by monitoring experts and help deriving the real time actionable intelligence for conditioning actions to contain the dust.

The real time dashboard will also enable the sprayers i.e. tankers, spray jets process controls to pin point the exact location grid where spraying is required for dust conditioning. The graphical user interface will help the operator or the process control system by using coordinates or heat maps. The heat map can also be provided to the operator of spray tanker or the operator of dust control department to utilize the suppressant in a more effective way. See Figure 5 for the Real Time Dashboard architecture –

Figure 5 – Real Time Dust Conditioning Dashboard architecture

The operator can see the real time moisture requirements to spray upon as in figure 6 as a heat map where he needs to spray more suppressant.

Figure 6 – Heat map in the Dashboard of the operator

Key Solution Benefits: – for the mining industry, the benefits of the real time solution would include

  • Increased life of haulage roads – The proper treatment of haulage roads leads in increasing its life reducing the costs of haulage road maintenance.
  • Smooth movement of fleet equipment at haulage roads which helps in improving productivity – reduction in cycle time of haulers / dumpers as the average length of haulage road in a mine can be in the range of 2 Km to 9 Km.
  • Controlled consumption of water and chemicals dust suppressants – the traditional way of controlling dusts is a scheduled spray of chemicals evenly across the haulage road. This solution will help pin point the exact location and amount to be sprayed thus optimizing the consumption of resources.
  • Reduction in wear of tires – The HEMM (Heavy Earth Moving Machinery) tires are very costly so the proper maintenance of haul roads will help maintain the same useful life as it is optimally designed for.
  • Increase in safety aspects – The over spraying of water, chemicals aid the deterioration of haul roads helping create potholes, loose material, rutting, corrugation and slippery which may result in near misses or accidents. Proper dust conditioning helps in optimal amount of sprays at appropriate location to optimally maintain good haul road condition.
  • Effective and real-time utilization of resourcese. mobile spray tankers, stockpile spray system, operators, tankers. Proper monitoring, forecasting and consumption of inventory of water and chemicals.
  • Real time reduction of suspended dust particles which in help reduces the chances of severe medical conditions in a long run for the mine employees.
  • The same model can be applied at stockpiles, loading point, unloading point, tailings dam and ports helping reduce wind erosions by appropriate conditioning.


The usage of IoT based real time solution will enhance the monitoring of dust hazards and optimize wastage of suppressant, water and increase the haul road life. The challenges are the connectivity of the sensors which will feed data to the server for real time data analytics. If the real time connectivity is ensured, it will enable improvements in the air quality and reduce operating costs of the mine. Soon, analyzing the dust levels using visual/video analytics will also provide the enhanced framework models for dust containment.

Author Bio’s

Niraj is an Industry & Technology Consultant having 21 years of experience focused on consulting, strategy and operations improvement. Currently, Niraj is Metals & Mining sub Industry Practice Leader in IBM Singapore. His interests include Niraj is also pursuing PhD from Indian Institute of Technology- Dhanbad (erstwhile ISM-Dhanbad).

Saumya Chaki is the Data Platform Solutions Lead at IBM by day and an author by night. Has a Masters in Technology from IIT (ISM) Dhanbad. He has authored two books ‘Enterprise Information Management in Practice’ and ‘A Journey Through 100 Years of Indian Cinema’. His interests include Big Data Analytics, Smarter Cities. Climate Change and Mineral Economics. His hobbies include travel, blogging and reading. He is currently working on his third book ‘Baptism by Fire’ a work of fiction.

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