Dec '13/Jan '14

Omitting emissions

Highland Valley Copper implements no-idling policy

By Ian Ewing

At Highland Valley Copper, a large open-pit copper and molybdenum operation in south-central British Columbia, Teck has implemented a no-idling policy for nearly all vehicles on site. It might sound like a small change, but it adds up to enormous energy savings: to the tune of nearly 1.5 million litres of diesel fuel annually, and an additional 18,000 litres of engine oil.

The origin of the policy is in Teck’s sustainability strategy, says Craig Haight, the energy coordinator at Highland Valley. “It was identified pretty quickly that [targeting] idling really was a potential big win, for a number reasons,” explains Haight. “A huge part of that was, obviously, a reduction in gasoline and diesel consumption, which ultimately leads to reduced emissions.”

The policy applies to light vehicles and auxiliary equipment, but the twice-daily shift changes in the pit were where Teck expected to see the biggest results. Each shift change lasts about 45 minutes, during which time nearly all heavy equipment in the pit was kept idling. Until the implementation of the no-idling policy, the common work practice was to leave the equipment running for the next operator.

“There were a number of reasons in the past why this was done,” notes Haight. “[Mainly], there can be serious implications to shutting off this equipment and not having it restart.

“For example, we have, give or take, about 40 haul trucks operating at any time. They use an air start system, which requires compressed air. If these compressed air systems are shut off for 45 minutes and there’s any small leak in the system, you lose all of this compression. What if we turn them off and we can’t get them started?” The impact on production could be severe.

Not as simple as turning a key

A team of representatives from various groups at the mine met over several months, starting in October 2012, to determine what it would take to shut off vehicles instead of leaving them to idle. Potential challenges ranged from the aforementioned production consequences to employee buy-in.

Highland Valley decided that pursuing the policy was worth the effort. For instance, any truck with a maintenance issue that prevented it from adhering to the policy was deemed not fit for operation. “You can almost say the policy led to better preventive maintenance practices,” muses Haight, “because now we have to be that much more diligent in maintaining our compressed air systems on the trucks.”

Human factors still had to be considered. Drivers were used to getting into warm vehicles at the start of every shift. The company took pains to show personnel that the large pit equipment did not cool down significantly over 45 minutes. The cold was also an issue for some pieces of equipment like dozers, which sometimes sit for days between uses. Cold starts are hard on them, so the company implemented a temperature-automated start system that allowed operators to turn off the vehicles, assured that the machines could turn themselves back on if the temperature dropped too much.

Concerns about battery life led to the replacement of various vehicle lights with more efficient LEDs, and equipment was inspected to ensure functioning block heaters for ex­tremely cold weather. The group also made sure the site had enough parking spaces with power plugs.

Cultural exchange

The technical and maintenance challenges were minor though, when compared to the biggest hurdle: changing the company culture. “We’re relying on a change in behaviour,” says Haight. “It’s going to be continual reinforcement; it’s going to take everybody’s commitment for this policy to be successful. We really saw it as an opportunity to promote a culture of energy awareness.”

Early on, some long-time employees did express doubts. Teck began seeking buy-in by distributing informational brochures, which highlighted the savings that could be made at Highland Valley. They provided take-home facts and debunked common myths about idling. Next were presentations for every pit operations crew member, demonstrating the maintenance and energy and sustainability benefits, and the long-term positive impact of a no-idling policy. Employees were encouraged to provide feedback to help refine the policy.

Despite the legwork ahead of time, the site-wide rollout of the new policy in February 2013 was not seamless. Numerous haul trucks experienced air leaks. Although extra maintenance rovers were scheduled for the first few weeks to minimize downtime, production took a hit. Haight says that while no downtime is welcome, the team anticipated having difficulties.

Teck will not disclose the total cost of implementing the new policy, but Haight underlines the savings are more than worth it. To date, Highland Valley Copper is on pace to save 1.5 million litres of diesel annually and reduce emissions by the equivalent of 4,185 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. “We’re very confident that the policy is making a significant impact,” says Haight.

Just as important has been the buy-in from employees. Compliance rates, based on frequent shift-change audits, are typically in the range of 99 per cent. Employees have noticed the difference in terms of how often they refuel their pickups. New hires and contractors learn about the policy during orientation, and Teck has promoted the message with perks like raffles and custom toques.

Reliable savings

The new policy should also improve maintenance and reliability. Equipment manufacturers such as Caterpillar increasingly use fuel burn to dictate preventive maintenance schedules. “Decreasing the amount of fuel going through the engines, as well as decreasing idle times, [Caterpillar] absolutely promotes this kind of activity,” Haight says.

Manufacturers are growing aware of the trend, too, and new vehicles may be designed around the practice. In the future, new electric-start systems could circumvent the air-start leakage issues.

It has been less than a year since Highland Valley implemented its no-idling policy and Teck has already rolled out similar rules at nearly all their North American operations. “Once we saw some success, Teck mandated that all company sites implement idling policies,” says Haight.

“Talking to other energy managers at other sites, from different companies, they’re all very interested and looking at similar policies. It’s becoming more and more of an acceptable practice.”

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