Energy costs aren't just hitting us at the gas pump. They impact every facet of mining - from haul truck operations, to milling, to reclamation. And, in many cases, there is no way to lower those costs.

However, you can cut your energy bill with high explosives. High explosives (HE) are a cheaper source of energy than diesel and you can save a considerable amount on your fuel bill if you make full use of HE technology at your mine site. True, high petroleum prices have also pushed up the prices of HE. For instance, one of the high explosives of choice for the mining industry is Ammonium Nitrate Fuel Oil mixture (ANFO), which uses fuel oil as a major component. Yet, these price increases shouldn't let you underestimate how much energy a properly laid explosive shot can save in heavy equipment fuel costs.

Unfortunately, some miners are forgetting how important explosives are to their operation. As costs crimp a mine's budget, it's easier to opt for cheaper explosives, getting rid of explosives subcontractors, or opening the blasthole pattern. However, these measures could actually increase costs. Poor blasting can mean more energy is used in crushing, drilling blast holes, and digging out material.

With that in mind, let's look at ways you can actually lower your energy and operations costs.
REVIEW THE TYPE OF EXPLOSIVES YOU ARE USING. ANFO is the explosive of choice for 85% of mining operations because it's inexpensive, insensitive to shock, and easy to handle in bulk. It does a good job of pushing the ore out of the hole. However, if your mine is still using ANFO out of habit, you might want to review your choice, especially in light of higher energy costs.

While one advantage of ANFO is its insensitivity, that characteristic also means that it will not detonate in small holes one inch in diameter. That usually means that the shot pattern consists of fewer, larger blast holes, which creates larger rocks. And, larger rocks mean more energy usage because they require larger, heavy equipment and more milling.

As experts often note, it's cheaper to break up rock in the ground than in the mill. Just by breaking up rock into the size of a fist instead of a football means that a mine can avoid one whole crushing step. And by getting consistency, a mine can lower the reject rate of oversized rocks.

Some mining operations have moved away from ANFO and towards explosives with higher performance. One such explosive is FRAGMAX by Dyno Nobel. While more expensive, it has higher brisance, greater velocity, and more gas volume. This allows an expanded blast pattern, while keeping rock size down. This gives the mine the option of producing the same amount of rock for less money or producing up to 30% more for the same cost.

USE A PROFESSIONAL EXPLOSIVES SERVICE. Some mines think that they can cut costs by handling explosives themselves. That, however, isn't always true. Explosives services offer much that most miners can't hope to offer. Blasting is a precision science thanks to modern technology, both in explosives and computer science. A blasting professional can blend both computer modeling and the latest explosives technology to best fit your mine's needs.

A good blasting expert can look at the mine geology and tell you what it will take to break up the formations. Whether the area is highly fragmented, solid granite, or sandy, will have the biggest impact on the type of blasting operations and how much can be saved. For instance, in solid granite, the shock waves easily travel to other explosive filled bore holes and can either set them off prematurely or even prevent an explosion (dead pressing). If the material is too abrasive and wears out the drilling tools, the mine may want to change the drill pattern and drill fewer holes while putting a different type of explosive in each hole.

Finally, the shape of the ore body will have an impact on how the explosives are placed. All of these are factors that a professional explosives service will bring to your site when you use one. And, if you aren't using one now, they can probably show you how you can lower your energy bill.

Explosive services can also save money for a mine because the mine can focus on what it does best - mining. Security and storage can be left to the professionals, who will do a better job.

So, before you cut back on your explosives budget in order to cover the higher cost of fuel, consider how a wiser use of explosives can cut your energy bill. In the long run, you may save much more money that you expected.