Mines Of Norway

Six hours from the centre of Norway, surrounded by deep snow, lay a mothballed coal mine. Our valuable expertise, gained over 100 years, was needed to inspect the mine’s critical CHP-style load centres as production needed to restart. Here’s how we did it, dealing with brutal sub-zero temperatures and finding a new, hyper-efficient solution for other clients along the way.

The project background

It was around 12 years ago when Baldwin & Francis first installed equipment for client Store Norske, on the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic Circle. The mine was initially sponsored by the Government, but shortly after launch, the project came to an end.Recently it was decided to use the mine to start producing coal once more. This decision echoes similar situations across the world in the wake of the Russian war with Ukraine as countries scramble to move away from using Russian energy supplies. In Germany, emergency legislation has been passed to reactivate mothballed coal mines, while in Greece the operation of existing coal-fired power plants has been extended to 2028. Meanwhile in the UK, the country’s first coal mine in 30 years is to be opened in Cumbria, to provide fuel for steel production, as UK steel makers rely heavily on coal from Russia.

Why was the inspection required?

Load centres are integral to the operation of a coal mine. They control features such as pumps, fans, hydraulics and conveyor belts – without them the mine simply would not be able to function. The equipment needed to be fully inspected, assessed and tested before the process of restarting coal production could begin, to make sure it was electronically safe and working mechanically. Our expert engineer Shiji Krishan spent ten days on this project. He has more than 17 years of experience at Baldwin & Francis in a mining capacity and travels around the globe to work on our many projects.

The challenges – and our solutions

This project came with multiple unique challenges to overcome. One was the length of time which had passed between the mine being operational and the date of the assessment in 2023 – totalling many years. This had left the mine susceptible to flooding and meant that any external item on the load centre which could corrode in that environment, from plugs to switches and sockets, had indeed corroded. While our load centres are classed as zoned equipment, meaning they can be used in gaseous atmospheres, they are not designed for water immersion.
The second challenge was of course the local weather.

Baldwin & Francis engineer solutions for use in the most extreme environments, and this was definitely extreme. At night, the temperature in Svalbard can drop to minus 40 degrees. Inside the mine for Shiji it was around five degrees during his working hours and outside it could easily be minus ten or 20 degrees when he made the journey back to the hotel. The temperatures are so cold that mines like this even require specially-heated electrical cables to ensure continuity of supply.

Combined with the fact that Shiji had just travelled from a job in extremely hot conditions in India, we needed to make sure he had regular rest breaks to recuperate and as many thermal layers as possible. Despite the adverse conditions in place, Shiji worked tirelessly to complete the service overhaul. He checked the load centres for internal water damage to make sure there would be no electronic or heat source problems that could affect the end user. After identifying areas that require refurbishment, we will be heading back to Svalbard to complete the work very soon as progress on reactivating the mine continues. As we write it is expected that this major mining project will continue until autumn 2023 when production is expected to restart at last.

load centre

Load centre refurbishment for the Norway mines


Discovering a new, efficient solution

The mine originally had six CHP-style load centres in place. Then, several years ago, when the mine was mothballed, four of these centres were sold on, so we only inspected two of them on site in Norway. The other load centres ended up at the Energybuild Aberpergwm mine in south Wales – which is the only source of high-grade anthracite in Western Europe – and at another mine in Turkey. On approach both companies asked Baldwin & Francis to help with refurbishing these load centres. The load centre containers are made from 40 cm-thick steel which can withstand an internal arc-flash as the most critical parts are located inside.

So, we were delighted to be able to bring them back into use and give them a new lease of life and guarantee them for another 10-15 years service combined with our yearly preventative maintenance schedule.
And as a result, we have had a massive response from clients who have equipment they believed was obsolete, calling for renovation of equipment. Compass Minerals, which runs the UK’s oldest salt mine from underneath the Cheshire countryside, also asked us to work on a refurbishment project. The benefits of utilising equipment in this manner include a reduction in both time and budget for clients.

On average, we are able to refurbish a load centre in around 50 per cent of the time it would take to build one from scratch, which we can do from our mining centre of excellence based with Allenwest in Ayrshire, Scotland. This means clients can access the vital equipment they need quickly, built to the highest-zoned equipment accreditations, in just two months. This time saving makes a massive difference to major projects, and we hope to do much more of this kind of work in the future for our clients.

Discover more of our expert solutions

Baldwin & Francis was founded in 1919 and has a reputation for tailor-made, world-class electrical power solutions. While we have worked on mining projects right across the world, we can design, manufacture and install solutions for the transport, energy and industrial sectors too. All our products are designed and manufactured in our Sheffield facility, ensuring the finest quality throughout. Baldwin & Francis is also part of iDESo Group, which has a headquarters in Sheffield.

Get in touch with our expert team to find out how Baldwin & Francis can assist with your mining project requirements.

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The B&F Team has experience across all our sectors and many electrical installations. Get in touch with one of the team to see how B&F can assist you with your project requirements.