If there’s one thing the events of the past 20 months may have taught mine operators, it’s that very little in the business world is the same as it used to be. Whether it’s a pandemic-related lockdown, an escalating labor dispute, an irresolvable political conflict or an unpredictable natural disaster, the industry is intensely aware that activity at any given site can be shut down unnervingly quickly and for an indeterminate length of time. Fortunately, many if not most of these unplanned operational interruptions can be accommodated or overcome by applying knowledge gained from prior experience, reliance on good advance planning, and attention to emerging social and political trends. What’s sometimes overlooked in the flurry of recovery preparations, however, are the myriad housekeeping concerns that need to be addressed to get a mine back on its feet after a shutdown. One of these concerns, according to a recent Shell publication titled From Selection to Storage: How Fuel Can Support Industry Recovery, is the care and management of a mine’s fuel resources.
Shell’s Commercial Fuels business noted that the financial consequences of the pandemic will make some operators unlikely, or reluctant, to invest in new heavy-duty assets while margins remain tight and operating environments are unpredictable. While this is a challenge for most, it can also be seen as an opportunity to double down on the maintenance and housekeeping measures that are important to setting a business up for success in any circumstances. Additionally, it may be prime time to bridge existing knowledge gaps if those measures were not a priority prior to the pandemic. Shell’s research shows a lack of staff knowledge was found to be one of, if not the biggest, challenge regarding effective fuel storage and handling.
Whether restarting vehicles that have been inactive during lockdown or optimizing for performance once into the recovery period, it can be difficult to know where to focus immediate attention. Since fuel is vital for reliable and efficient fleet performance, it can be a great place to start — especially since the impact of fuel on Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is often underestimated. Opting for a cheaper, non-additivated fuel can result in rising costs due to suboptimal performance, increased maintenance or downtime issues. As work continues to ramp up, fuel purchase, storage and management is something that should be at the top of an operational to-do-list.
Securing On-Site Fuel
Many factors — notably heat, oxygen and humidity — can contribute to the degradation of stored fuel, so it’s imperative that fuel is stored effectively, regardless of the current working situation.
The primary way to combat exposure to damaging elements is to ensure that tanks are made of compatible materials, such as coated steel, that will not leach into diesel and risk the development of impurities. And if these tanks are stored outside — as most fuel storage regulations demand — they must be properly sealed, located away from heat and sunlight, and monitored regularly for irregularities and temperature changes. As part of this, samples can be taken from a storage tank and checked for appearance: if fuel is bright and clear, loading or dispensing operations can be initiated; however, if the fuel is hazy, then drain or pump any water from the tank before retaking a sample to check if deterioration has occurred.
Moving forward, it may be worthwhile to review fuel choice decisions to ascertain whether business needs are being met by the current fuel supply. The unpredictable nature of the pandemic has led to local lockdowns being reinstated in several countries, meaning it is in a company’s best interest to proactively consider what measures can be put in place to limit the potential impact of further periods of enforced inactivity. Fuel choice can act as one of these measures. Fuel with performance additives, such as Shell’s FuelSave Diesel, provide good water separation and stability, especially in the presence of biocomponents, while a corrosion inhibitor in the fuels helps prevent corrosion in the storage tank.
Maintaining In-Vehicle Fuel
A key consequence of lockdowns was the sudden stoppage of industrial operations. A vital consideration for those dealing with heavy-duty fleets is safe and effective storage and eventual recommission, following varying periods of inactivity. Maintenance and recommission of equipment and its hardware have been top priorities for most during this latest phase, but the role and health of consumables inside these assets should not be overlooked.
Providing equipment was not exposed to hot, humid or variable temperatures —the latter because of the risk of overnight condensation — any fuel with suitable stability characteristics left in the system for up to three months should still be fit for use. However, if fuel-related issues are experienced when restarting equipment, it can be helpful to add a small volume of fresh fuel to the tank. If issues persist, it is always advisable to contact the vehicle manufacturer due to the wide variation that exists in fuel system specifications.
As vehicle reliability becomes paramount, the choice of fuel takes on greater significance. However, when surveyed, more than half of fuel decision-makers across the construction and transport sectors stated that it was becoming more complicated to decide which fuel currently on the market was best for their business.1
If in doubt, it can be helpful to choose a high-quality fuel that is effective across a wide range of applications. Shell recommends its FuelSave Diesel and Shell Diesel Extra, both of which can be used in on-road vehicles and off-road equipment. The company pointed out that premium, additivated fuels such as these are designed for good water separation and stability, especially in the presence of biocomponents, while corrosion inhibitors help prevent corrosion in storage tanks. At the operational level, they can help lower CO2 emissions and black smoke by keeping injectors free from carbon deposits, promoting more efficient combustion and ultimately reducing fuel consumption.
Industries such as mining are now facing an operating reality that has changed. Reduced or inconsistent workforces may still affect productivity, while lower budgets may prevent efficiency gains. With operators being pulled in multiple directions, there is a need to stay tightly on top of each and every aspect of the business.
Fuel usage sits at the middle of this equation; an area that contributes a sizeable portion of overall operation costs yet is still regularly undervalued by many businesses when it comes to opportunities for efficiency gains. Fuel presents arguably one of the most significant opportunities for companies to take advantage of when searching for material gains, because the right choice can alleviate TCO pressure by increasing fuel economy and reducing maintenance costs and downtime.
1 Shell Commercial Fuels (2018). Making Fuel Work for Your Bottom Line: Overcoming the False Economy That Standard Fuels Can Help the Construction Sector Reduce Total Cost of Ownership. London, Edelman.