As the demand in the global market for coal shifts, producers – large and small – are increasingly looking for innovative solutions to lower financial costs and maximise their assets quickly and efficiently. In this global environment, modular coal processing plants are coming into their own, explained Bob Drummond, Ausenco QCC Principal Process Engineer.

“Mining operations aiming to process run of mine (ROM) coal of between 50 and 500 tonnes per hour, are looking for more efficient, lower cost and more environmentally sustainable coal processing solutions,” Drummond said. “Ausenco QCC has developed a suite of modular plant designs that offer an appealing alternative.

“Previously, plant design and delivery were always considered a standalone project with the plant engineering design effort being a relatively large component of the project’s indirect costs. Recognising this challenge, Ausenco QCC has invested in the development of a suite of standard, cost-effective modular plant designs and layouts that can be easily modified to meet a client’s specific project needs,” Drummond said. “With a modular plant, smaller capacity mine operators can still leverage Ausenco’s vast engineering design and project delivery capabilities and our experience in the coal industry and acquire a cost-competitive coal processing solution.”

Drummond said modular plant design and delivery is most appealing for smaller new operators. “These operators may be starting with minimal capital, have mines in challenging locations and with potentially short mine lives. They will want to be in production quickly to generate near-term cash flow, with the option to expand if the mine and market conditions are favourable. We have seen interest from the Latin American market for efficient, low-cost, compact modular plants, where operators can stage increases to production to match their mining requirements”.

“Ausenco QCC also offers a range of flexible contractual models to service this market. As well as the familiar fixed lump sum project delivery type model, there is the option to finance and deliver the plant under a Build Own and Operate (BOO) contract for projects that meet our financing guidelines,” Drummond said. “This option will be attractive for miners with a good balance sheet, but who are finding it difficult to secure acceptable finance in the current environment. This model will help them get moving.”

It is simpler to install a modular coal handling and processing plant than to build a conventional plant because the modular plant is designed, constructed and dry-commissioned offsite. After commissioning, the plant is broken into modules sized for road, rail and ocean freight. Then it is transported to the site, where it is erected normally within six to ten weeks. This approach removes the issues experienced at remote or geopolitically challenging locations, reducing the need for a large construction crew on-site for an extended period. This improves safety outcomes in construction. Modular plants can also be disassembled, on-sold or relocated, increasing their potential for re-use.

Drummond said brownfield mine operators could use modular coal plants to increase their existing capacity without making major modifications to an existing structure. They can also lift their product quality or proactively to improve their energy efficiency. “With minimal modification, operators could also use a modular plant to recover a saleable product from their tailings, maximising their asset recovery and reducing their tailings emplacement liabilities.”

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