Industrial gases play a pivotal role in the mining sector, particularly so in the case of Air Products South Africa which enjoys established supply relations with various regional operations. Some of which include the country's largest gold, platinum and iron ore producers.

Rob Richardson, Air Products General Manager pointed out to gasworld just how wide the spectrum of gases involved is, and explained their applications in more detail.

He began, “Gas effects almost every aspect of mining operations, including human safety, quality control of the metals, productivity and environmental health.”

“The gases used in mining include an assortment of both industrial and speciality gases. Industrial gases used on a daily basis are oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen, but also include dissolved acetylene, liquid petroleum gas (LPG), carbon dioxide and argon.$quot;

Richardson continued to explain the particular importance of oxygen, which constitutes the main part of Air Product’s Bulk gas involvement in the mining industry. He outlined the three main functions it serves with regard to metal extraction.

Firstly, because it effects faster reactions, its presence in the leaching, ,roasting or smelting processes both increases yield, and reduces the processing time, thus improving overall productivity. Secondly, oxygen is used to remove impurities, such as sulphur and carbon, in metals; and thirdly, the use of oxygen provides environmental benefits by decreasing the volume of emissions, thereby making them easier to treat or recover.

The Air Products expert also explained the roles of nitrogen which is most frequently used to extinguish underground fires, but also to control oxidation in hot metal processing; and lastly to control furnace atmospheres.

Over and above these ‘base’ gases, Air Products also took the opportunity to explain the growing relevance of ozone in the destruction of cyanide, which is most often utilised in the gold industry.

So just how does Air Products company effect these supplies? Well, in the case of gold, uranium and ferro-chrome mines, most liquid and gaseous products are distributed using a fleet of cryogenic tankers and cylinder trucks.

Meanwhile, where high volumes of gas are required, specific on-site plants are built to facilitate continuous pipe-line supply. Richardson explained the intricacies of this supply-model, “It is important to ensure a high level of reliability when it comes to on-site gas supply. We focus strongly on technical excellence when it comes to operations and maintenance, and consult closely with our customers to design dependable backup systems.”

One such system, commonly used at on-site plants, is to store gases in liquid form at extremely low temperatures, and then vaporise the relevant gases if and when needed.
Another system used is an on-line programme called Telalert, which assesses a customer’s requirements for bulk and cylinder gas in real time. Richardson elaborated, “The system helps us to understand exactly where our mining customers are at, in terms of their gas supply. It alerts us well before the critical stage, so we can plan our supply options timeously.”

Perhaps most telling, was the significance placed upon this sector by what is a global industrial gases player. Indeed, Richardson concluded, “We are especially proud that so many of the big mining players in this region have come to rely on us for both expert supply solutions and quality gas products to enhance their operations.$quot;