The question facing many mining operators is whether the increasing global energy demand should be met with traditional generation or renewable sources. For an increasing number of companies, renewables are already winning on cost.
Energy can account for around 15 percent of mining costs, according to a CCSI report. This level can rise to 40 percent in metal mines. Where fossil fuels are involved, this cost can be quite volatile.1
Many mines are located in remote sites that are not grid-connected. Electricity is often produced by diesel generators. Driven by high fuel-transportation costs, the price for electricity generation is normally high. Renewable energy is an optimal add-on to diesel-gensets and can generate considerable fuel- and total electricity cost-savings.
Why are mining companies looking into renewables?
Mining companies are starting to heed the transition towards a low-carbon future by investing in wind energy, solar and gas. This was relayed at the annual African wind energy summit, the Windaba, in Cape Town, last Wednesday. Gold Fields VP and group head of carbon and energy Tsakani Mthombeni said the gold miner was gradually transitioning towards a low-carbon and renewable energy environment.
“Ten years ago, you would not have heard anyone talk about renewables in mining, but things are changing. Financiers locally and globally are coming under pressure to be seen to be funding low carbon projects,” Mthombeni told a special session on mining. 2
What renewables are they considering?
Many mining companies are looking at renewable sources such as wind, solar, geothermal energy, hydropower, and hydrogen and fuel cell energy.3 Renewable energy is changing the mining industry in a number of ways, some of which are listed below3:
- Cheaper mining operations
- More employment opportunities for engineers
- Lower greenhouse gas emissions
- Sustainable development support
- Energy efficiency on mine sites
What does this mean for the industry?
Many mining companies are already getting ahead. Take Gold Fields for example, mentioned above. Gold Fields’ Agnew gold mine in Western Australia is to become Australia’s first mining operation to be powered largely by low-carbon and renewable energy. It will combine wind turbines which will deliver 18 MW of power, a 10 000-panel solar farm contributing 4 MW, a battery energy storage system and a 16 MW gas engine power station to underpin supply when required.2
Escondida, BHP’s massive copper mine in Chile, will switch completely to renewable sources of energy. The 1.2 million tonne Escondida operation currently relies on gas for its energy requirement. One of the world’s largest copper mines, it produces approximately 20% of the global copper concentrate supply.
“We’re now in the late stages of securing a long-term contract for renewable power supply that could deliver significant cost savings relative to our current gas-fired supply,” Healy told investors during a Social Value Briefing in London, according to Mining Journal. Renewable energy makes sense because Escondida’s power requirements have risen due to a recent investment in a seawater desalination plant, and declining mineral grades. Located in the northern Atacama desert, the Escondida mine has access to excellent solar radiation. On the other hand, the zone from the Pacific coast to the Los Andes cordillera also has high winds. Escondida is, therefore, optimally located to develop both wind and solar renewable energy.4
Even mining equipment is getting a renewable overhaul. Some hydrogen-powered mining trucks have been released and are in use in Australia.5
Locally, the industry has even seen a new all-electric mine. In Chapleau, Ontario, Newmont has officially opened the all-electric Borden Mine. The company proudly says the mine features state-of-the-art health and safety controls, digital mining technologies and processes, and an all-electric underground fleet. This is an amazing feat and is the first all-electric mine in Canada.6
Renewables are definitely catching on as the best new way to decrease energy costs and to decrease greenhouse gas emissions in the mining industry. We look forward to seeing where this will take the industry, and N-Sci is always available to assist if you or your mining company is looking for electrical engineering assistance or renewable energy consulting and design.
1Deign, Jason. (February 26, 2019). Mining Companies Cozy Up to Renewables, Not Just for Cost. Retrieved from greentechmedia.com: https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/mining-companies-renewables-cost#gs.adtsv2
2Cloete, Kim. (October 9, 2019). Mining companies edge towards renewable energy options. Retrieved from miningweekly.com: https://www.miningweekly.com/article/mining-companies-edge-towards-renewable-energy-options-2019-10-09/rep_id:3650
3AngloAmerican. (September 24, 2019). 4 Ways the Mining Industry Uses Renewable Energy. Retrieved from angloamerican.com: https://www.angloamerican.com/futuresmart/our-world/environment/mining-with-renewable-energy
4Griffith, Saul. (2019). BHP’s Giant Escondida Mine to Use 100% Renewable Energy. Retrieved from energyandmines.com: https://energyandmines.com/2019/10/bhps-giant-escondida-mine-to-use-100-renewable-energy/
5Willuhn, Marian. (October 11, 2019). Hydrogen powered mining trucks are coming. Retrieved from pv-magazine.com: https://www.pv-magazine.com/2019/10/11/hydrogen-powered-mining-trucks-are-coming/
6Canadian Mining Journal Staff. (September 23, 2019). Newmont officially opens all-electric Borden mine. Retrieved from mining.com: https://www.mining.com/newmont-officially-opens-all-electric-borden-mine/