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Solar: The new future for mobile crushing?

COVID-19 has taught the mining industry a few key lessons – none of which are new, but all of which have now become vital for long-term operational sustainability.

Adaptability to market conditions and the associated requirement to enhance production performance, along with greener footprints and innovative power usage solutions, are just some of the focal points that have made it onto boardroom agendas. And one such initiative ticks all these boxes, writes LAURA CORNISH.


Open pit haulage routes are considered one of the costliest and biggest environment-compromising areas in any mining operation. Articulated dump trucks require hundreds of litres of diesel to operate and this only increases as pits deepen and the distance to truck material grows further.


“The concept of mobile, in-pit crushing is by no means new to the industry and has been marketed to industry as an alternative to traditional trucking and the associated costs. In 2021 however, this service will reach a new level of innovation as we introduce the optionality to use the process to enhance or establish a greener footprint on site,” says Sandro Scherf, CEO of mobile crushing and screening specialist business Pilot Crushtec.


At the end of February 2021, the company started commissioning its first ever electric dual power, in-pit mobile crushing and screening plant/train for a new manganese operation in the northern Cape. The train is designed to operate using diesel as well as electricity – a functionality that speaks to the above mentioned benefits.

“This particular train has taken the concept of energy innovation one step further, an important consideration for Africa in particular which in most parts struggles with unreliable energy supply from state-owned utilities. We believe this train will be the first to be operated using solar energy,” Scherf reveals.

Thanks to the mine’s desire to improve its overall energy footprint, it has invested in the establishment of a solar farm to drive most of the operation’s energy needs – including in-pit crushing. “This project will demonstrate the true level of innovation that can be delivered when mine, contractor and OEM collaborate together to exceed traditional boundaries and operational limitations,” the CEO continues.

The full train, comprising a Metso LT120E primary jaw crusher, a new designed Metso LT330D cone crusher with a built-in screen and a Metso ST2.8 dual powered scalper, is designed to process 400 tph, taking ROM blasted material with a feed size of up to 700 mm. It will require 500 kW to operate. The train will initially operate using diesel, only to prevent a delayed production start-up until the solar farm is completed. When this sun-powered facility is operational, the in-pit train will switch over to its intended power operated mode.

“The constraints of limited power supply is quickly becoming a redundant concern as more mining companies are looking to power their operations using renewable energy sources – of which there is an abundance in Africa. The installation and operation of our first solar-powered crushing and screening train demonstrates our capabilities in a new world which demands greater environmental compliance and sustainability and reduced operating costs, and as such we anticipate seeing a fast and steady increase in the demand for this type of crushing solution,” Scherf highlights.

Mobility reduces cycle and commodity uncertainty risk

Commodity prices at present are looking healthy, likely driven by COVID-19 related market uncertainty and supply shortages. “Global instability is at present however, still one of the only certainties we can be sure of ironically. This requires a flexible operating style and flexible decision making,” Scherf notes.

Regardless of the positive commodity price environment, the mining industry must be ready for change or at the very least be able to adapt quickly to change. To benefit from a strong commodity environment, mines and contractors are looking for fast mobilisation, lower capital expenses and shorter duration contracts. “The faster mines can move into production and benefit from a high price environment, the better it is for their businesses. The reality is that mobile crushing and screening can deliver on this,” Scherf points out.

While mobile crushing is ideally suited to the junior market sector, whose processing requirements generally range between 350 tph and 800 tph, machines can be built and cater to larger scale operations – up to 2 000 tph – all of which Pilot Crushtec has the capabilities to deliver on.

Regardless of the machine requirements, the industry is also looking for technological advancements that can assist them in securing an optimal operating performance from their machines Scherf continues. Machine monitoring and preventative maintenance are the key areas of focus at present in this regard.

“Technology innovation is not new to us, and is not an area we have focused on or invested in as a result of COVID-19. This has been incorporated into our product offering for years. As the official distributor for a range of equipment items from Metso Outotec, we have the additional value-add benefit of offering our clients the Metso Metrics system – a data analytics system that collates machine performance and parameters, and in doing so identifies areas of weakness or situations that may cause an unscheduled breakdown,” Scherf explains.

Mobile crushing and screening – equipped to perform technologically, and using alternative sources of energy are undeniably two areas that can deliver positive financial and environmental impact for the mining sector. Pilot Crushtec can deliver on both fronts and drive that accretive value the industry is currently so desperate for.