Extreme power provider

The Vysochaishy gold mine, deep in the harsh Irkutsk region of Siberia, needs reliable electricity in order to operate. Mobile stand-alone power plants that can cope with the area’s extreme weather conditions make it possible to extract the inaccessible riches.

DATUM 2023-11-28 AUTOR Paul Redstone

An ancient Siberian myth tells of an extra sun and moon that heat the world to unbearable temperatures and then cause it to freeze. In Siberia’s unforgiving climate it is easy to see how  such a myth might come about.  For half the year, temperatures are consistently belowfreezing and can plummet as low as –50 °C. And yet in the summer months temperatures can soar to almost 40 °C. 

The Irkutsk region covers almost 775,000 square kilometres at the centre of the Asian part of Russia. It’s an area rich in natural resources, with sizeable deposits of practically every commercially valuable mineral. It is one of Russia’s biggest gold producers and has large reserves of oil and gas, diamonds, potassium, titanium, table salt, mica and iron.

But the region also has harsh weather conditions and difficult terrain. Russian energy consulting and engineering specialist ADD must deal with these factors on a daily basis as it works to supply power to local communities and industrial operations. Reliable electricity is essential for industrial operations such as the Vysochaishy gold mine, and critical for local populations in order to survive the hostile winter.

ADD’s robust mobile power plants are what makes it possible to deliver electricity, heat and cooling to remote rural areas not connected to the national power grid, and its solutions are deployed throughout Western and Eastern Siberia, the Urals, the Volga region, Yakutia and Uzbekistan.

The Vysochaishy gold mine’s main processing plant has the capacity to produce 1.2 million tonnes of ore annually, but extracting it is a challenge. Daily temperatures fluctuate dramatically, dropping by as much as 30 °C at night. “Vysochaishy” means “the highest” in Russian, and the mine’s highland location also makes strong winds a hazard. ADD’s power plants must be tough enough to handle the tough conditions, which was a decisive factor when ADD chose Alfa Laval to supply AlfaBlue air heat exchangers and control units.

“Extraction processes are expensive, and stoppages due to equipment breakdown can have a serious effect on profits,” says Mikhail Tolmatchev, technical director at ADD Service. “Reliability is critical, which means the equipment must function perfectly in extreme and unstable weather conditions. Alfa Laval products have never failed us.”

Tolmatchev adds that the need for reliability is compounded by the lack of roads in regions such as Irkutsk. “In many areas, spare parts can only be delivered in winter, when the ground is sufficiently frozen to make transport possible,” he says. “So we simply cannot take risks when it comes to quality.”

But quality and reliability are not enough.  The special conditions within the mining industry make it crucial that the power generation system is mobile, enabling it to be moved to a mining location precisely when it is required.”

The solution used is based around diesel- or gas-powered generators mounted on special mobile containers. Power can be quickly supplied where needed, and the plant can be easily dismantled and moved to another location. Typical applications include mining exploration, or filling in while a permanent power plant is under construction.

“This business model gives our customers freedom from operational worries,” Tolmatchev says. “When they need power to an area, they call us. We work out the best technical solution, then assemble the plant on site and ensure that it is running correctly. When it is no longer needed, we take it away. The customer simply pays for the power we supply.”

Viktor Obraztsov, chief project manager at ADD Engineering, stresses the importance of the close relationship that has developed during the five-year cooperation with Alfa Laval. “Each project has its own unique challenges, and the engineers need to coordinate a great deal of technical information,” he says. “This influences the selection and use of equipment, so an understanding with suppliers is essential. Alfa Laval specialists always respond rapidly to our requests, and their dedication to getting to the heart of a problem ensures that we achieve the right solution in every case.”