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Venetia’s transition almost complete

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Venetia’s open pit mine when underground work started in 2013. The newly constructed shaft can be seen to the left of the pit. Image credit: Leon Louw for WhyAfrica

Venetia’s transition almost complete

With its cooling system in place, Venetia, De Beers’ last mega diamond mine in South Africa, is approaching the final stages in its transition from open pit to underground mine.   

De Beers’ Venetia Diamond Mine, close to the town of Musina in the Limpopo Province of South Africa, has been one of the country’s prime producers of diamonds since 1995.

The mine started life as an open pit operation. Today, Venetia produces 5.5 million tons per annum and will ramp up to 5.9 million tons per annum when the brand-new underground mine comes online. Underground work is nearing completion in Venetia’s transition to become an underground diamond mine.

Venetia is the only major diamond mine to be developed in South Africa over the last 25 years. The mine represents one of De Beers’ single biggest investments in the country and was officially opened by former De Beers chairperson Harry Oppenheimer in 1992.

The transition from open pit to underground

About a decade ago, the De Beers group embarked on the Venetia Underground Project, a USD2-billion project designed to transition the mine from open pit to underground.

Upon completion of this project, the mine’s lifespan will be extended by a further 23 years, ensuring that it can maintain its current level of production until 2045.

The underground infrastructure comprises two vertical shaft systems for personnel transport, ore transport, routing of services, lateral access levels on 54, 94, 100 and 103 level, and shaft bottoms at 107 level. One of the last pieces of the puzzle to fall in place was the installation of the cooling system. The need for cooling was identified as part of the ventilation and occupational hygiene planning for the underground mine.

The need for a top air-cooling system

The air-cooling system constructed by BBE Projects, part of the BBE Group, includes two water-chilling refrigeration machines housed in a central plant that distributes chilled water to several users, as part of a distributed cooling approach.

The main air cooler is a direct-contact spray chamber located adjacent to the plant building and will eventually feed cold air to the underground workings via a large downcast shaft, which is currently being raise-bored by a specialist contractor.

BBE Projects will return to the project within the next eight to ten months to install the final piece of duct connection between the spray chamber and the downcast shaft once the raise boring is complete.

There are three subsidiary air-coolers operating –a secondary spray chamber feeding a satellite downcast shaft, which supplies cold air to the development workings; and two finned-coil dry heat exchanger in the air intakes to the sinking fans which force-ventilate the production shaft. These cool air as it enters the shaft for workers currently performing shaft sinking, equipping and underground development work.

The air-cooling system has been built to be extended with the addition of a third refrigeration machine as cooling demand increases. The plant building has a space provision, and the concrete shell for a third condenser cooling tower was constructed with the intention of equipping mechanicals and electricals at a later stage, as the mine develops.

BBE Projects was contracted to design, supply, construct, and commission a turn-key air-cooling system for the Venetia Diamond Mine.

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