Technology gets handle on conveyor dust

WHEN you're building an environmentally friendly conveying system from the ground up, the best way to sell it is from the top down, according to an Australian business targeting the coal industry.
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Customised bauxite handling system from Air Control Sciences

Sabian Wilde

Air Control Science is a United States firm specialising in dust and fume control. It has patented systems and technology to limit dust released during bulk handling of minerals, particularly coal.

The release of dust to the atmosphere in coal handling can be an environmental, health and safety risk, as it has the potential to ignite.

ACS has redesigned the bulk handling systems used in coal plants in order to minimise the release of dust through passive design, rather than extracting it from the atmosphere afterwards.

Its technology has won it contracts with leading minerals processing and coal-fired power plants in the US, including "critical supplier" status with Alcoa throughout the globe.

ACS recently formed a separate corporation in Australia called Air Control Science Pty Ltd, jointly owned with US-based materials handling systems manufacturer McLanahan Corporation.

Greg Albert has been chosen to head the new Australian company. He has extensive experience in Australia's mineral processing industry, including a period as head of mineral processing equipment manufacturer Nordberg's Australian operations.

Albert spoke to Environmental Management News about the decision to establish an Australian subsidiary and its relationship with leading Australian minerals companies.

"Some of the major companies in the world have been dealing with a wide range of suppliers. I think Alcoa had 20,000 or something like that," said Albert.

"They did a study that identified about 20 key suppliers that they must deal with to survive in the future, and ACS was one of them.

"To meet Alcoa's requirements in Australia, it made sense to establish a business here.

"There's been a lot of interest from Australian companies, but because ACS is an engineering, procurement and construction company, it's been difficult to manage that from the United States," Albert said.

While ACS has patented its "no visible dust" technology, the company does not manufacture bulk handling equipment.

"To achieve the environmental impact that we get on plants, we haven't been able to simply supply the technology to fabricators, because they don't really have the knowledge to implement it," Albert explained.

ACS' business is divided into two main streams: an engineering and construction business and its Coal Handling Risk Management service.

"The biggest challenge for our sort of company is that change has to come from the top down," Albert said.

"The people that actually manage and operate the plant, who are responsible for maintenance and everything, it's pretty hard to get them switched on to environmentally friendly solutions."

Albert said the impetus for risk management and improving a plant's environmental performance generally comes from upper management, chief executives and board members.

In the US, ACS has tackled this problem by dealing with companies such as Alcoa from a senior management level.

The company's Coal Handling Risk Management consultancy is engaged by upper management, allowing ACS to enter the plant floor and identify the company's risk exposure due to potentially explosive dust released by the existing handling systems.

The success of the company's operations in the US has been based on its ability to design customised solutions for its client's plants, based on its patented bulk handling technologies and managing the unique risks of a plant's environment and processes.

"Most people don't do that, they just patch up areas that create dust and throw a bit more rubber on the sides," Albert said.

"Intelligent design allows you to avoid those problems, and as a result, you don't need scrubbers and that sort of thing.

"Obviously, that goes against a lot of traditional engineering, but it can eliminate a lot of capital intensive equipment," he said.

Albert said ACS would be able to compete with other risk management consultants providing services to the coal industry through the patents it holds on the equipment designs for its dust management solutions.

He said that while stricter environmental regulations and guidelines would certainly help ACS do business in Australia, compliance would not be the critical factor in the company's bid for success down under.

"There are still significant markets within the current environmental guidelines," Albert said.

"But if they are tightened, then our company is poised to capitalise on that."

Albert said ACS had already been asked to perform Coal Handling Risk Management audits for a couple of power stations in Australia and Rio Tinto's Hamersley Iron operations.

"I think there's going to be a very good market for Air Control Science in Australia. We're already getting enquiries from senior management and above," said Albert.