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Changing pumping systems at its main quarry has saved Welsh Slate money and earned it greenie points.

An overhaul of the pumping system at its main quarry has seen leading UK manufacturer Welsh Slate achieve a hat-trick of benefits through increased production and reductions in not only its operating costs but its impact on the environment.

The company's largest quarry, Penrhyn at Bethesda near Bangor in North Wales, the largest single-site slate quarry in the world as well as the oldest, dating back some 400 years, has suffered a series of inefficient and expensive pump systems, and the latest, installed over a year ago, has been no exception.

Given that 85% of North Wales slate now comes from Penrhyn, Welsh Slate's purchasing manager Edward Griffiths decided the situation needed sorting once and for all and enlisted the help of Nottingham-based Pioneer Pump Solutions. 

His brief to Pioneer was to reduce the environmental impact of the pumping application through better efficiencies, reduce operating costs, and increase plant production (it produces 500,000 tonnes of usable slate annually for roofing, architectural materials, walling, rockery, paving and aggregate for gardening and construction) by reducing pump downtime (breakdowns) and faster de-watering, as flows of more than 100 litres per second were often required.

The existing system operated using two 2400 high head 90kw submersible pumps and two diesel generators mounted on two pontoons with four 350-metre lengths of six and eight-inch hose which often leaked. This had to carry the water some 55 metres up out of the quarry. The 90kw pumps were capable of pumping a maximum 50 litres per second each, giving a less than ideal total of 100 litres per second.

Running an average 160 hours per week and using more than 7,000 litres, the fuel costs for Welsh Slate per year were amounting to more than 374,000 litres and costing the company almost £250,000. In addition to this, the operation was producing almost 1million kg/CO2.

Pioneer's new scheme was to replace the two submersible pumps with one 150 clear liquid medium head 112kw diesel pump capable of pumping a minimum 100 litres per second, mounted on a plastic pontoon with one fuel tank and 30 metres of 8” wire armoured hose, and renovate the existing six and eight-inch hoses.

Even with a 68kw decrease in power, the new scheme reduced the fuel consumption per week to 4,480 litres, the fuel total per year to under 233,000 litres and the fuel bill by 50% to £150,000. At the same time, the operation's carbon footprint reduced by 40% to just over 600,000 kg/CO2.

Pioneer's system has saved Welsh Slate more than £120,000 per year in operating costs (fuel + rental rates) and 370,000 kg/CO2 or 373 tonnes of CO2. Production has increased due to faster de-watering (flows of 102 litres per second are now the norm and can increase to 140 if required) and pump breakdowns, which were accounting for a loss in production of approximately one day per month, are now zero.

Edward Griffiths said: “It did feel like we were sending men down there all the time to repair the system. What was taking us 24/7 now takes just six hours in the morning. It's hassle free, fuel-efficient pumping.”

Pioneer's general manager Kieran Gagg said: “When Welsh Slate contacted us we saw it as an exciting opportunity to do what most would see as an impossible task and we are delighted it has been so successful for them.”

Welsh Slate is used on worldwide projects as diverse as Buckingham Palace and Blackpool Tower, the Welsh Senedd, and heritage buildings in Australia and New Zealand. 


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