31 October, 2014

Hovercraft in Minnesota Mining Operations

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 seed and reforest, as well as to manage environmental hazards such as blowing dust, at a major taconite mining region on the Mesabi Iron Range in 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 can be blown into nearby towns. Mining companies are strictly mandated by state and federal regulations to control environmental issues such as 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 take a one-day standard pilot training course at Hovercraft Training Centers in order to familiarize himself with hovercraft technology and to evaluate the capabilities of the Neoteric range of light hovercraft ...
At the controls, David Olson learns to fly a Neoteric Hovercraft at HTC,
with Senior Instructor Chris Fitzgerald providing directions as needed.
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 was reasonably sure after his training that hovercraft could help spread the surface sealant agent that he was considering. His next step was to arrange an on-site evaluation at a Minnesota mining site to see how the hovercraft would handle the variable, soft and sticky surface of the tailings ponds ...

Neoteric President Chris Fitzgerald and David Olson test the hovercraft’s performance
over the challenging terrain at a Minnesota taconite mining site.

A closeup of the muddy surface of the mining site’s tailings ponds.
The evaluation looked promising and Olson believed that hovercraft would give him the opportunity to expand the surfaces he could reach. So, working with Neoteric, a set of requirements for application rate and acreage covered per hour were developed, along with various scenarios to be evaluated for the purpose of optimizing the spraying operation. An application rate of 30 gallons per minute was deemed necessary in order to cover the vast area with which Olson must deal.

This resulted in an order for two hovercraft each capable of carrying 100 gallons of the dust suppression agent/water mixture, fuel, a pilot and a lightweight spraying system ...

Neoteric President Chris Fitzgerald (right) discusses fuel tank position with assembly factory supervisor
Eric Whalin during the manufacturer and installation of the spraying system.

Since all off-the-shelf commercial spraying systems were too heavy, Neoteric fabricated
the special lightweight tanks used to transport and store 100 gallons of dust suppression agent
aboard the D & T Landscaping hovercraft. 

Neoteric designed, built and tested two spraying systems, one for each D & T hovercraft, in record time because the weather was rapidly deteriorating in northern Minnesota. And the entire pumping system and tank weighed just 80 pounds!

These two videos of Chris Fitzgerald testing one of the completed craft illustrates the high degree of control the Neoteric hovercraft's reverse thrust system will give D & T Landscaping ...

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 help ameliorate.

Here’s a video clip of a practice session showing one of the two hovercraft moving across the cracked, sticky mud while a trainee practices hovercraft piloting and dust suppression spraying …

The tanks of the dust suppression system are refilled during flight training
at a 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 the reach and speed of their dust suppression efforts. Hovercraft expand access to areas on the mining site that are difficult for other vehicles to reach, and they operate less expensively than other vehicles. Hovercraft also move much faster than tractors or piston bullies, which can become stuck in the mud.

In addition, the hovercraft are controlled internally by D & T Landscaping without the need to rely on outside contractors to provide, for example, helicopter services. Helicopters have been used in the past by D & T to attempt to manage the blowing dust problem.

The use of hovercraft for dust suppression in taconite and other similar mining operations can protect companies from legal actions and expensive dust cleanup in nearby regions. 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. And reports suggest that taconite reserves exist in this area to last at least the next 100 years.

Neoteric Hovercraft in Gold Mining and Coal Mining

The Minnesota project is not the first time Neoteric hovercraft have played an important role in the mining industry. In the past and present, our craft have been employed in similar mining operations, such as accessing tailings ponds at cyanide gold leaching mines in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, South  Carolina and Montana.

Neoteric craft are also utilized in coal mining operations and at coal fired power plants, which often slurry coal or residual ash for the purpose of transportation to storage or waste slurry ponds. The hovercraft are used to safely traverse the ponds’ surface for rescue of personnel and wildlife, for surveying, to check chemical levels and to transport work crews needed to position infill piping ...

Here, First Energy Corp. of Pittsburgh, PA uses their hovercraft for
surveying, sampling, seeding and inspecting waste ash pumped from a power plant
seven miles away. See more photos ...
A Neoteric hovercraft conducts an ash pond study at the Duke Energy 
electrical plant on the Wabash River in Terre Haute, IN. See more photos ...

Neoteric hovercraft have also proved to be a vital tool where similar conditions
and requirements exist, such as in dredging operations in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland 
(shown here) and in rebuilding barrier islands in Mississippi. See more photos ...

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