Atlas Copco compressors perform under polar conditions

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Winter temperatures at Norway’s remote Sydvaranger iron ore mine can plunge to –35degC. To keep things moving the mine relies on air dryers, oil-injected rotary screw compressors and oil-free compressors from Atlas Copco. Sydvaranger had three main reasons for choosing Atlas Copco as their supplier: “reliability, life-cycle cost and energy efficiency”.

Atlas Copco compressors perform under polar conditions The Sydvaranger iron ore mine is located in Norway’s far north-east, about 400km above the Arctic Circle. It sits in mountainous terrain above both the small town of Kirkenes and Bøkfjorden, a waterway connected to the nearby Barents Sea.

Einar Berg, senior mining advisor knows everything worth knowing about the open pits and the quality of the ore and the rock. He says:“The weather conditions are the biggest challenge for mining in the area. The summers are bright and warm, but in the winter we can have temperatures as low as –35 degrees.”

Atlas Copco has delivered air dryers, oil-injected rotary screw compressors and oil-free compressors to the mine. Rune Mjørud Hansen, District Manager for Atlas Copco Compressor Technique Scandinavia, says: “We could immediately see that the extreme temperature conditions required a reliable choice of air dryers. Sydvaranger Gruve has chosen BD-dryers for their plant which gives them clean and dry air with a guaranteed dew point of at least – 40degC. Compressed air is the heart of the production and if the air freezes production is brought to a halt.”

The mine’s active pit, Bjørnevatn, is located only 2km from the border with Russia. Coarsely crushed ore is transported on an 8km-long railway track – the most northerly railroad in Europe – down to Kirkenes. Here it undergoes further milling and separating and is turned into the concentrate that is shipped to smelting plants in Asia or Europe.

Berg says: “What some consider a remote location may be an advantage for others.” The first commercial cargo ever to go through the Northern Sea route was iron ore from Sydvaranger on the way to China in 2010. That route saves 40 per cent on time, fuel and emissions compared with a conventional route.

Arnfinn Mentyjærvi, Maintenance Manager at the mine says Sydvaranger had three main reasons for choosing Atlas Copco equipment – “reliability, life-cycle cost and energy efficiency”.

Mentyjærvi says:“You can look at the price tag or you can look at the total cost. We decided to invest in quality. We have previous experience from earlier production in the mine and know that we can trust equipment from Atlas Copco, and that access to spare parts is good.”

Focus on energy efficient equipment

Energy efficiency has become increasingly important within the mining industry. There is also an energy shortage. Mentyjærvi says: “The closure of the mine in 1996 created a surplus of electricity in the area that was then used for other business. When the mine was rehabilitated we had to build up a new supply chain, but the access to electricity isn’t unlimited and this has put extra focus on using energy efficient equipment.”

Hansen points out that while compressors are not the biggest consumers of energy at Sydvaranger Gruve, minimising operational costs leads to superior productivity. He says: “Low pressure drop and dynamic control with dew point dependent switching was essential. With our frequency controlled, oil-free compressor ZR400VSD, which provides precise pressure control, it’s not unusual to have energy savings of up to 35 per cent.”

Sydvaranger Gruve has a 24-hour service contract with Atlas Copco and 20 staff are based on-site, conducting maintenance, service and repairs on the drill rig equipment. Einar Berg says the arrangement works well. He says: “We have daily meetings where we plan and adjust the maintenance to the production. That gives an appreciated flexibility and there have been very few problems.” Atlas Copco has also delivered lighting sets and several different types of drill and top hammer rigs to Sydvaranger.

To learn more about air dryers, oil-injected rotary screw compressors and oil-free compressors from Atlas Copco, please visit

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