SurfCleaner supplies one of world’s largest iron ore mines

SurfCleaner’s water separation ‘wonder-weapon’ takes aim at mining sector’s carbon footprint

Energize Editors

Energize Editors

SurfCleaner’s world-first technology recovers contaminants from water surfaces – including oil, diesel, petrol, sludge and other pollutants. Offering a myriad of operational, environmental, and cost-saving benefits, the revolutionary ‘skimmer-separator’ is being introduced by heavy industries around the world. In the last six months, it has witnessed a significant breakthrough in the mining sector. With half-a-dozen machines now running in mining operations across Sweden, SurfCleaner CEO Johnny Sajland charts the firm’s recent progress and immense growth potential overseas.

Mining and the Climate Crisis

The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement resulted in 175 United Nations member states agreeing to pursue actions to limit global warming to below 2 °C. However, implementation of the current pledges are only expected to reduce temperatures to around 2.6°C by the end of the century. The metals and mining industry alone contributes to approximately 8% of the global carbon footprint. While coal and gas extraction will decline in a low-carbon future, the opposite is forecasted for the wider mining market which is intrinsically linked to the energy transition. This is due to increasing demand for more than 20 ‘energy-transition’ enabling metals including iron, copper, aluminium, nickel, lithium, cobalt, platinum and silver. As we continue to navigate the climate crisis, it is clear that the actions of a number of key industries will play a central role determining our progress towards a low-carbon future.

The Sustainability Agenda

With this backdrop, the topic of sustainability is becoming increasingly important for mining. There are a number of key themes directing the sustainability agenda for the sector. Firstly, global electrification. We are witnessing a major shift away from fossil-fuel powered operations. Many forms of machinery and processes are now ‘going electric’ in order to increase energy efficiency and reduce pollution, while lowering costs to customers and society. This is all part of an integrated approach to deep decarbonization.

Secondly, the global ESG movement – also known as ‘Environmental, Social, Governance’. This approach to investing recommends taking core values into account when deciding which companies to invest in. As such, there is greater pressure than ever before for major industries to comply with fast-developing ESG standards and plan for future legislation to ensure sustainable practices. In turn, investors have lower tolerance for companies which are not prioritising sustainability or displaying strong environmental credentials. This is well reflected in Sustainability Reports, frequently produced by leaders across the mining sector. Pressure from investors is huge.

Water & Mining

One area where the mining sector can make rapid improvements to boost sustainability credentials involves better wastewater management. Mining uses vast quantities of water – primarily for mineral processing, dust suppression, slurry transport and employees’ needs. More specifically, during the drilling and excavating process, underground engineering equipment releases grease and hydraulic oil into water sources. This water collects in pools, tanks and basins – together with wastewater from the underground workshops and cleaning facilities. It is then pumped back to the surface and either released into nature or disposed of using vacuum trucks. In all scenarios the water must be treated carefully in order to comply with stringent and ever-increasing environmental standards.

Traditionally, mining operations have used a range of water collection and separation tools to complete this task, including filters and band skimmers to aid this process. However, these methods have proved both inefficient and costly, leaving large volumes of contaminated water to be transported long distances away from mine sites to specialist locations to ensure legal disposal.

SurfCleaner technology – Inspired by the human heart

SurfCleaner’s technology is addressing this challenge head on by offering far superior water collection efficiency rates compared to existing technologies on the market. The core principle behind the technology was created by clinical physiologist Dr Stig Lundbäck MD PhD following his discovery of the human heart’s Dynamic Adaptive Piston Pump (DAPP) functionality.

Stig built on DAPP to invent and develop the SurfCleaner – but he also applied other universal laws of physics from nature and the universe, such as gravity, equilibrium, variation in rotation velocity in the centre and the periphery, different density, and more.

This makes the SurfCleaner a truly natural machine, working in concert with the laws of nature, instead of trying to combat them. By enhancing gravity and setting the liquid in vertical and horizontal motion inside the body of the SurfCleaner this creates a circular inflow at the top, and an outlet at the bottom. The rest is pure physics. The novel technology does not require a pump, powerpack, hydraulics or pneumatics. Instead, it offers a light, versatile and flexible solution.

Today, SurfCleaner is led by the late inventor’s daughter, Christina Lundbäck, who relaunched the business in 2018, and now serves in the capacity of Chief Sustainability Officer & Head of Corporate Relations. Driven by a deep desire to solve environmental challenges and the looming climate crisis, Christina is upholding the Lundbäck legacy as an outspoken advocate for sustainable industry.

For environmentally conscious mining operations, SurfCleaner offers multiple benefits. Firstly, through more efficient water separation, SurfCleaner vastly reduces the quantity of contaminated water requiring treatment and associated disposal, transport and labour costs. There are also a host of environmental benefits from lowering VOC emissions on site, reducing shutdowns and decreasing overall energy use to creating a cleaner, safer working environment. Furthermore, it enables mining operators to make meaningful contributions to the circular economy while generating new income streams, by neatly collecting by-products which can be reused and resold.

While boosting operational efficiency and slashing costs, SurfCleaner’s technology crucially helps to reduce the mining sector’s carbon footprint.

Supporting World’s Largest Iron Ore Mine

A recent case study actively demonstrating SurfCleaner’s benefits involves one of the largest underground iron ore mines in the world. Here, electric machines are used extensively throughout the colossal mineral deposit roughly 4km-long and 2km-deep. Due to a build-up of grease and hydraulic oil these machines require consistent cleaning. This activity is performed in a washing hall deep underground, where used water is transported through pipes to an API separator in the mine’s water treatment plant.

One of SurfCleaner’s SCO 1000 devices is currently located in the API separator helping manage the first stage of the water treatment process. It collects, separates and empties oil and grease into an IBC tank around the clock. Another SCO 1000 device is used in a second API separator, further along the process, collecting thin layers of remaining oil. The separated oil is then pumped into a container and later collected by an oil recycling company, while the purified water can be reused as process or wash water. The ability to reuse both oil and water is a major win-win for the circular economy.

SurfCleaner’s technology has essentially replaced the former oil filtration system and eliminated an entire stage of the water treatment process between the API separators. By comparison the oil filter solution was expensive, cumbersome and hard to maintain. The first SCO 1000 device is currently separating around 1 cubic meter of oil per week, while the second device is deployed when required removing any remaining oil from the API separator within a single day. As such, the mine operator is able to avoid the 800km round trip with vacuum trucks to transport oil-damaged water to third-party treatment facilities.

The project has also led to modifications to SurfCleaner’s technology, specifically geared towards use in underground mining environments, which experience high volumes of abrasive media like sand and gravel. This includes the development of protective screens which collect and reduce inflow of unwanted debris.

Breakthrough & Future Growth

Following this major breakthrough, SurfCleaner now has half-a-dozen machines running in mining operations across Sweden. Due to the market response, it is building skills and resources to facilitate a major growth drive and expand its mining portfolio internationally.

This comes as the mining sector itself forecasts significant growth due to mega trends including urbanization, connectivity, electrification and shifts in technology – which all demand higher material intensities. In addition, a rise in new technologies supporting the energy transition – including solar PV, wind power, electrolysers, Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS), electric vehicles and semi-conductors – also require a wider range of materials. In combination, these key drivers will dramatically increase demand for materials including lithium, terbium, cobalt, neodymium, nickel, iridium, copper and steel.

Following deep analysis of the mining sector, SurfCleaner believes the global market could be worth in excess of EUR 10million per year in product sales alone, separate from rental offers, maintenance and aftercare services.
Statistics show around 30,000 active mines in the world. While many of these are smaller mines, which are not necessarily relevant to SurfCleaner, around 13,000 mines remain of significance. Within that list there are several thousand which are of high interest. This includes the likes of gold, copper and iron-ore. Further demonstrating the scale of the global opportunity, isolated regions like Saudi Arabia are looking to grow their respective mining markets in order to reach parity with oil and gas markets by 2035.

As SurfCleaner focuses its efforts on Europe and the Middle East – through its extensive distributor network – it is also preparing to explore Africa, Western Australia and South America later in 2023 and beyond. In conjunction with the oil refining sector, mining will become a major driving force in SurfCleaner’s future growth plan, with potential to transform the operation into a €100million turnover company.

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