When you think of vehicles used in mining operations, a hovercraft may not come to mind … unless you have the foresight of David Olson. Olson’s company, D & T Landscaping, Inc., is under contract to conduct a dust suppression project at a major taconite mining site in the Mesabi Iron Range near Hibbing, Minnesota.
Some background: Taconite is an iron-bearing sedimentary rock, a low-grade iron ore. When high-grade natural iron ore was plentiful, taconite was considered a waste rock, but the industry recognized its value as the supply of natural ore diminished. After years of research, scientists and engineers at the University of Minnesota developed a way to extract the iron ore from taconite, which is mined in opencut mines, then crushed, processed into small pellets and shipped to steel mills.
David Olson explains what happens during the process: “As the rock is crushed, the residue is mixed with water and pumped into tailings ponds to dry out. As that surface dries, the dust is picked up by the wind and it blows into nearby towns. Mining companies are strictly mandated by state and federal regulations to control the dust.”
But how can hovercraft help solve this problem? “We need something different. We use tractors and piston bullies, but they don’t work well in a soft environment. The surface is like quicksand; it does build a crust as it starts to dry, but you can’t stand or walk on it. Our situation is basically mud,” Olson says. “We’re looking into using a liquid dust suppression agent on the tailings, and we need to be able to get out to places where our current technology doesn’t take us. I want to see if hovercraft can help us facilitate that process. ”
Olson’s first step was to visit Neoteric to discuss the custom manufacture of hovercraft to meet his needs, and to take a training course at Hovercraft Training Centers to familiarize himself with the capabilities of the Neoteric HoverTrek™.
At the controls, David Olson learns to fly a Neoteric Hovercraft at HTC,
with Senior Instructor Chris Fitzgerald providing constant feedback.
After his day at Neoteric and Hovercraft Training Centers, Olson was convinced that hovercraft would do the job. “Even if we can cover 80% of what’s not being covered today, that’s a significant improvement,” he said. And he found it to be an enjoyable experience, adding, “It’s pretty exhilarating. It’s fun! I could see myself personally wanting one. And it’s much more stable than I anticipated.”
Olson’s next step was to order two Neoteric hovercraft to be custom manufactured with tanks to carry dust suppressant and pump water …
The water tanks that will disperse dust suppressant mixed with water were custom manufactured
by Neoteric in order to achieve the ideal weight and fit perfectly into the two hovercraft.
Finally, Chris Fitzgerald and HTC flight instructor Steve Stafford delivered the two hovercraft to Olson in Minnesota and conducted flight training for D & T Landscaping personnel at the actual taconite mining site, with the crafts’ dust suppression systems in full operation.
Upon arrival at the mining field, Chris Fitzgerald (left) meets with David Olson.
The truck at the left gives an indication of the dust problem that the hovercraft will alleviate.
Here’s a video clip of a practice session showing one of the hovercraft moving easily over the challenging terrain while spraying dust suppressant …
The hovercraft water tanks are refilled during flight training at the taconite mining site near Hibbing, Minnesota.
D & T Landscaping personnel enjoyed their flight training and were impressed with how
the hovercraft will expand their capabilities. With Neoteric President Chris Fitzgerald (left)
are Jason Martire, T.J. Lamping, Doug Grovenburg and David Olson.
The Neoteric hovercraft utilized by D & T Landscaping will increase not only the reach but also the speed of their dust suppression efforts. Hovercraft allow access to areas on the mining site that no other vehicle can reach and they also move much faster than tractors or piston bullies, which frequently become stuck in the mud.
In addition, the use of hovercraft in taconite mining dust suppression protects mining companies from legal actions and expensive dust cleanup in nearby towns. Make no mistake, this industry is vital to Minnesota, which is the largest producer of taconite and iron ore in the United States. During World War II, one-fourth of all the steel used in the United States came from this area and Minnesota’s Iron Range currently contributes more than $1.8 billion to the state’s economy. Taconite saved Minnesota’s iron ore mining industry and is the largest employer in the central iron range region.
But this is not the first time Neoteric hovercraft have played an important role in the mining industry. In the past, Neoteric craft have been employed in various mining operations, including gold mining, in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, North Carolina and Montana.