August 2008

Innovation Page

A success story in energy savings

By J. Fortin

Aerial view of Fermont, constructed by Quebec Cartier, to house its employees. 

Our innovation focus this month takes us to the northern mining community of Fermont, Quebec, situated 800 kilometres northeast of Montreal and 24 kilometres west of Labrador City. Located at latitude 52°48’ north, the town experiences long winters with an average annual temperature of -4°C. Fermont was also the first community in Canada to be powered entirely by hydro-electricity.

To buffer the citizens of Fermont from the elements, town designers used the most advanced concepts in northern town planning by incorporating a structure they call the “windscreen” as protection from prevailing winds for the rest of the town. The windscreen consists of a long three- and five-storey apartment complex with some 440 units, overlooking 654 townhouses, detached and semi-detached houses and bungalows accommodating 3,000 people in total.

The windscreen complex is fully 1.2 kilometres long and comprises five major segments, varying from 15 to 20 metres in height. The entire building is well cared for by staff reporting to the human resources department of ArcelorMittal Mines Canada (formally Quebec Cartier Mining Co.). This talented and dedicated maintenance team has kept the facility in excellent condition, and is to be credited with developing an innovative strategy for implementing energy saving projects throughout the complex.

Reducing energy consumption in the windscreen facility required a comprehensive plan. The maintenance team devised key elements of the plan over time and enjoyed the support of company management in carrying it out. Key initiatives included:

  1. A complete replacement, over a six-year period, of all windows with units that take advantage of new technology to reduce heat loss. Roofing upgrades were similarly carried out over a period of 10 years to improve energy efficiency.
  2. With the advent of improved control system technology, a fiber optic system was installed to connect every mechanical and control room in the facility to a new energy management system, in addition to providing improved fire protection and video monitoring of critical areas.
  3. Thermographic inspection technology was used identify areas of increased heat loss, and over a two- year period, these areas were effectively insulated to increase thermal resistance by 50 to 100 per cent over previous values.
  4. For two of the five major facility segments, siding was upgraded and stairwell corridors fully enclosed to reduce heat loss.
  5. Another new technology that was leveraged included the installation of solar heat absorption walls on two facility segments, wherein outside intake air could be heated with solar power by as much as 20°C as it entered the heating systems. This initiative alone provided savings with a full return on investment in less than two years.
  6. New advanced control system architecture took advantage of an in-depth analysis of energy systems and occupant needs to
    optimize heat/exhaust control towards achieving reduced energy requirements.
  7. A comprehensive program was executed that took advantage of all the latest technologies. Certification was carried out with Natural Resources Canada and supported by Hydro-Quebec.
  8. All company employees were engaged and took on the challenge of saving energy, resulting in hundreds of minor improvements in lighting effectiveness, service motor efficiency and insulation upgrades.

The results are exciting — the combined efforts of the windscreen facility maintenance team and all supporting employees have reduced total energy usage by 22 per cent. The employees are to be credited and commended for leveraging new innovative technologies and techniques, to increase energy efficiency and reduce environmental impact. It’s another way that the mining industry has improved environmental performance while synergistically improving business results.

Jean Fortin is vice president, mining operations for ArcelorMittal Mines Canada in Mont-Wright, Québec. Employees, passion, communication, presence on the floor and performance are attitudes and values he has always promoted in managing mining operations.

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