Scrap conveyor belting is finding new life on Queensland’s coal rail network in a trial involving Aurizon and New South Wales-based business Andromeda.
The company’s reusables division manufactures a range of products by using machines to strip or punch used conveyor belts, the majority of which are sourced from the Hunter Valley coal industry.
Andromeda’s business development manager – reusables division, Zelman McLaren, said its latest avenue for repurposing the belting was to use it on railway tracks to stop coal dust from fouling the ballast.
It reduced the maintenance costs for Aurizon, which had been trialling the idea in central Queensland, he said.
Worn belting is sliced to width to fit neatly between the tracks and catch the fallen coal.
Mr McLaren said Aurizon would usually have to replace ballast as coal dust soaked into the rock and made it impermeable to rain, potentially leading to issues with water banking up and destabilising the track.
Mr McLaren said repurposing belting which had reached the end of its usable life in the mines was a safer option than reconditioning it for potential reuse in conveyors.
It also provided a good outlet for mines to dispose of a bulky waste material.
“We will acquire the belt at no cost or for a nominal amount per metre and we process it using the equipment and machines my father built,” he said.
“We turn those old belts into totally different products for other industries.”
The simplest form of processing sees Andromeda tear the belts apart and make them thinner and lighter for use in a range of farming applications such as lining for cattle sale yards, stables and equestrian arenas.
“The other level of processing we do – and we are totally unique in this – is that we have a machine that punches holes in the belt,” Mr McLaren said.
This resulted in a product that was extremely useful for erosion control in areas such as beach access and walking tracks.
Mr McLaren said Holeybelt was also commonly used in the back of utilities and horse floats.
“Conveyor belt is a very strong material and incredibly inert, designed to carry very heavy loads on conveyors for 10 years. It’s very strong. To use it as a ute mat means it doesn’t break down like other rubber does,” he said.
“The holes allow the moisture to evaporate from underneath the mat and not give the owner a rusty ute tray.”
The plant is based in Tamworth and Mr McLaren said the vast majority of belting was acquired from NSW coal mines, although there had been some purchases from Queensland, including from the Mackay region.
“We are taking a waste stream from the mining industry and redeploying it cleanly,” he said.
The company has been repurposing rubber belting for more than 20 years.
Mr McLaren said his father Raymond had developed the machinery after realising the potential for conveyor belt reuse.
“Dad was working on the design for mining roof trusses 30 years ago with a friend of his and he noticed all of this belt lying around and he started asking about it because he saw it as valuable,” he said.
“They said they planned to dump it. He brought a roll of it back to his factory and started to play around with it and he found ways to tear it apart. He then built machines to do that and machines to punch holes in it. So that all came out of him coming across belt probably 30 years ago just in a casual circumstance and his engineering curiosity.”