Bright ideas

Louise Davis

LED lighting dramatically reduces costs in mining operations, explains Rizwan Ahmad

LED lighting has seen widespread adoption for retrofit applications within the mining industry for its long-life dependability and safety, particularly in dirty, harsh and other volatile environments. But, when it comes to greenfield projects, many engineers and Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contractors are reluctant to specify LED fixtures because of the perceived higher upfront cost. Despite knowing that LEDs are more efficient and economical over the long haul, once contracts are signed and budgets locked in, EPCs are under pressure to build out the facility in the most cost-effective manner, while ongoing operations are often a secondary consideration.

The reality is, however, that designing a site for LEDs and specifying this high-efficiency lighting technology can actually lower up-front capital costs considerably, not to mention the reduction in long-term operating expenses. Although the individual fixture costs may be higher for LED versus traditional HID, the overall installation cost can be dramatically lower.

The case for LEDs

At one large iron ore mine in Western Australia, productivity and operational efficiency were primary drivers in the overall design of the new 35 million tons per annum (mtpa) facility. Designers originally spec’d the facility for traditional HID fixtures (primarily 70W high-pressure sodium bulkheads) based on the perceived lower up-front costs. However, after examining a high-efficiency LED lighting alternative, planners made the switch, reducing lighting installation costs by 14% and generating an overall savings of close to AUS$100,000 on lighting alone.

There are several ways that LED lighting can lower the total Capital Expenditure (CapEx) and Operational Expenditure (OpEx) for greenfield mining projects. The first is reduced fixture quantity. Some LED fixture manufacturers employ precision optics that place the light specifically where it’s needed, which reduces the number of fixtures required to light the same area. In the case of the Australian iron ore facility, opting for the most sophisticated LEDs with precision optics reduced total fixture count by 30%, from 602 down to 402. That means fewer lights to purchase up front and fewer to maintain over the years.

Another key benefit is less infrastructure. The more efficient optics mean fixture placement can be wider, requiring fewer poles and other infrastructure for installation. At the ore plant, the poles were moved out to 40ft rather than placement at 26ft, requiring 10% fewer poles, which also reduced the installation cost by 10%.

Thanks again to those precision optics, fewer lights and less infrastructure means the lighting system can be installed quicker and easier, reducing labour time - a major CapEx in any new project.

Integrated emergency lighting is the next advantage. Because some LEDs are able to function as both general and emergency fixtures on battery backup, this can eliminate the need to install secondary emergency fixtures. The iron ore facility was able to eliminate the purchase of emergency fluorescent fixtures completely, saving on the purchase and installation of the luminaires, along with the need to maintain and stock replacement parts for the fixtures.

Once installed, the most durable LEDs that are designed for rugged environments can virtually eliminate the need for lighting maintenance for years, some covered by a manufacturer’s warranty for up to 10 years. This can save a tremendous amount in labour costs, which includes reduced hiring expenses for a new facility, as it takes fewer electrical maintenance staff when the lights require zero maintenance.

Energy reduction

It’s well known that LEDs reduce energy consumption and costs by as much as 60%. Even during construction, budgeting for this long-term savings reduces projected OpEx and frees up valuable resources that can be better spent elsewhere, on process equipment and other critical operational needs.

As a solid-state fixture, LEDs are much more durable in high-vibration, dirt, dust and potential impact environments. That means they not only last longer and require no maintenance, but also that they eliminate the need to stock replacement parts. This means more usable space during construction and operation that’s not taken up by light bulb storage.

Although LED fixtures might seem costlier on the surface, a more careful analysis of the actual CapEx related to reduced materials, labour and infrastructure costs could mean considerable savings over traditional lighting systems, even for greenfield projects. Coupled with the ongoing OpEx savings generated by reduced energy and maintenance costs and its long-life durability, LED lighting is becoming an ideal solution for both retrofit and greenfield projects in the mining sector.

Rizwan Ahmad is VP of Engineering and Technology for Dialight.

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