Arctic Cooling

Marty Drinkwine
Special Collaboration


When you think of an extreme mining environment to work in, popular fancy may turn to the challenge to be faced on Mars in the coming decades. Much closer to home, but almost as challenging is an environment that tests both man and machine to almost the same degree. It is, …The Arctic!

Contrary to popular belief the Arctic is not a vast empty wilderness frequented by few creatures and fewer humans. In this terse wonderland is to be found a resource critical to the continuance of the Canadian economy. It is a major iron ore find near Mary River on the Arctic Circle at the top of Baffin Island in Canada’s Nunavut Territory.

The ore deposit was first surveyed in the 1960s, however extraction activity did not begin until the early part of this century. This was not to be the simple “Dig Away/Draw Away” operation as found elsewhere in Canada. Rather, this would be as much a colonisation operation as a resource extraction one. Particularly more intricate given the wild nature of the terrain, climate and complete lack of infrastructure and support. Nothing had been done on a scale like this since the opening of Labrador in the early 1950s as seen in the National Film Board of Canada film “Road of Iron” by Walford Hewitson. Certainly nothing that has had to account for the cultural, environmental and political sensibilities found in the 21st Century.

To do this would require bringing together finance, expertise, materiel, government and the support of local stakeholders. A company of adventurers in a very modern sense, a company to be known as Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation (BIM) took up the task to bring this very special ore to the steel makers of the world.

As with any mineral operation, equipment, spares, maintenance and port facilities had to be established. Unique to this locale, roads, power, water and accommodation infrastructure were also required as there was virtually no human presence for over 100 km and none of any substance to support this scale of development.

Development requires energy and the most flexible energy technology available in such a situation is the portable generator. Not your puny 5 kW camping genset, but a complete electrical power generation, transmission and control grid. Due to the geography of the operation not 1, but 2 grids were required. One to power and support the mine site, the other for the shipping site.

Light means heat, especially in virtual 24 hour darkness. Heat also means survival of man and machine. Electricity then becomes the most valuable and critical resource, arguably more so than the ore body itself.

Such pressure makes the selection of critical components a high priority with the emphasis on reliability in such extremes. Cummins rose to the challenge and its generators provide this vital energy for operations and accommodations. A series of 15 power units – 8 for the main camp and 7 for the shipping camp. Each is a self-contained cell to provide environmental protection for the units and to control the cooling and exhausting of air owing to the extremes of the climate. Ambient temperatures roughly range from between 10°C to -30°C according to Environment Canada. Controlling cooling parameters is important to starting and running the engines, particularly under load.

Stable operating temperatures for the engines also translates into coolant and lubricant temperatures being stable. This puts great reliance on the efficiency and reliability of the heat exchangers required. Unfortunately, as often happens, an inexpensive conventional core cooling package slipped through the initial procurement process. The result was less than satisfactory in reality, than it had been on the balance sheet and after exposure to the tough conditions soon began to become troublesome and jeopardized the success of the operation.

Cummins Eastern Canada, the regional service support distributor, knew the answer and recommended that BIM contact L&M Radiator in Minnesota to discuss a suitable Mesabi cooling package to resolve the reliability issue. Could they design, build and deliver a suitable number of units before the situation deteriorated further?

Mesabi and Cummins engineers got to work using the latest techniques including finite element method (FEA) to evaluate and finalize a workable solution. Once the new coolers were on site, Cummins Eastern initiated a program to remove and replace the old coolers with the minimum of disruption to BIM. L&M dispatched a liaison team to provide technical assistance and advice.

More than a year later, the power plants are fulfilling their role and BIM has extracted and shipped record tonnages of ore. Mesabi with its rugged design and serviceability has played its part at the “Top of the World”.

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