Australian company develops fire-retardant rubber for mining
In a bid to reduce fire risks at mineral processing plants, Australian company Elastomers Australia collaborated with leading mining operators to develop non-burning rubber screen media panels.
Fires accounted for a massive 98% of notifiable incidents at WA mine sites and mineral processing plants in the 12 months to March 2018, according to WA’s Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety.
It’s a similar story across Australia’s other mining states with both the NSW Resources Regulator and Queensland’s Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy reporting big increases in fire incidents over recent years.
According to Elastomers Australia’s General Manager Business Solutions Pat Caputo, one of the reasons is likely to be an increase in the use of some combustible materials by operators.
“There are many benefits to using lighter weight plastics and rubber compounds for a broad range of applications across the industry,” he said. “Screening, or the process of grading ore by particle size, is one such application. Screen media panels that contain various sized apertures to grade the ore are made of rubber or polyurethane compounds which perform well and are easy to handle.
“But these sorts of materials can also burn if they come into contact with an ignition source.”
It is that risk that has driven major mine operators around the country to investigate the development of fire-retardant alternatives and resulted in Elastomers Australia delivering a solution that is ready for market.
“We were approached by an existing client who asked about potential solutions to the problem,” Caputo said. “We’d already commenced research into fire-retardant materials and with the assistance of the client we were able to fast-track development of a tailored screen media solution.
“After initial fire tests proved successful, we rolled the screen media out across a number of sites to test its wear and other performance capabilities, and the results have been very positive.”
“Fortunately, the number of lost time injuries caused by fire remains low in the Australian mining sector, but the results of fire could be catastrophic and it is our duty to eliminate any such risks,” he added. “Much of the mining industry’s approach to safety goes beyond compliance and seeks to achieve year-on-year improvement.
“While a key focus of safety management is people’s behaviour, the adoption of technology by operators also has a major part to play in reducing and ultimately eliminating risks.”
Caputo said while Elastomers Australia solutions were responsible for screening the highest tonnages of iron, coal and gold ores across 200 mineral processing operations in Australia, the company saw global opportunities for its new development.
“As far as we know, we are the first in the world to bring a viable fire-retardant screen media product to market,” he said. “We expect to see an increase in opportunities as mine operators nationally and internationally look for ongoing safety improvement.”
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