Compressed air in the mining industry

How and where is compressed air used in the drilling and mining industry?

Michelle Nicolai
 Sullair ES-8

Sullair ES-8

Working in both surface-level and underground mines - many of which can stretch for miles - presents harsh and unforgiving environments. When working to extract these precious minerals and natural resources, as well as maintain safety for work crews, mining companies rely on durable, energy-efficient and safe mining equipment. Compressed air is an important source of power in nearly all mining operations. Mining companies often rely on industrial compressed air systems or portable air compressors for electric and pneumatic tools.

From exploration and ore processing to smelting and refining, the entire mining process requires some form of compressed air. Typical mining applications requiring compressed air include:

  • Exploration drilling - air drilling uses compressed air to drive a slowly rotating percussion drill bit, which operates in a similar manner to a jackhammer.
  • Instrumentation - instrument air needs to be clean and dry, for pneumatic instrumentation
  • Pneumatic tools - in surface and underground mines, air compressors are used as a source of energy for power tools such as drills, wrenches, pneumatic loaders, and other equipment needed in mining environments
  • Ventilation systems - in underground mining, compressed air provides ventilation within deep mine tunnels. Compressed air provides safe and breathable air. Refuge bays are provided as a place of safety for fresh air and ventilation supply for workers during hazardous underground emergencies such as fires
  • Blasting - Drilling and blasting is the controlled use of explosives to break rock for excavation. The result of rock blasting is often known as a rock cut

Most mines utilise more than one compressor. Some compressed air systems consist of more than one compressor station, otherwise known as a compressor house. The compressed air generated is distributed across the mine via an extensive piping network - some of these pipe sections span up to 40k (25 miles). The surface piping network is also sometimes referred to as a compressed air ring.

The heavy-duty use and harsh environments of the mining industry require compressed air equipment capable of withstanding such use.  The Sullair oil-flooded rotary screw air compressors and portable air compressors are recommended to the mining industry to provide a reliable air flow to power tools, equipment and ventilation systems critical to mining operations around the world.

Michelle Nicolai is a regional sales manager - Sub-Saharan Africa for Sullair