It’s a well known fact that mining consumes about 7% of the world’s total electricity. What factors do we weigh in order to calibrate mining’s energy consumption?
Mining contributes significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions. According to a UN report, half of the world’s industrial emissions are caused by the mining and production of resources, fuel, and food. In terms of an unsustainable high carbon footprint, it ranks alongside the oil and gas industry.
Drill and blast, haulage, refining, and transportation are all energy-intensive stages of the mining value chain. For decades, mining companies have relied on coal, diesel, and natural gas to fulfil their energy needs.
But things can’t keep on like this. To align with the environment sustainability legislation and obligations that every nation has under the Paris Agreement, a shift in mindset is needed.
Concerns about climate change, though, aren’t the only cause for a shift in attitude. There are also other factors at stake. Diesel is often used to produce electricity. However, the increasing cost of fossil fuels makes them unsustainable. Furthermore, several public groups, states, and investors are leading the charge to transform the sector and reduce emissions.
Various aspects of reconfiguring energy use in mining are discussed in this interview, including researching the energy mix, developing customised solutions, the latest developments in the renewable energy sector, and regulations that encourage companies to make significant changes.
Energy solutions for mining
It’s difficult to make general conclusions about mining energy use. A variety of variables must be considered before determining what improvements can be made at a mine. In comparison to a surface mine, an underground mine typically requires more energy per tonne of rock mined. The use of shovels, dozers, and vehicles (for haulage and dumping) in a surface mine consumes a lot of energy.
It’s also important to figure out how much energy is used and for what reason. The type of mine that is used depends on the resource that is being mined. The mine’s long-term viability is also important. It may be a brand-new project or one that is already operational. Since you can use cutting-edge technology with a new mine, the opportunities can be very exciting. You’re simply retrofitting systems on an existing mine site. Many existing mines have limited lives, but they are often prolonged, resulting in mines that only have a few years left in them running for decades. One size does not suit all, so solutions must be tailored to factors such as product, grid capacity, power sources, usage mix, mine type, and location.
The unmistakable drive for renewable energy
Miners have publicly turned their back on coal in the in the last couple of years as pollution targets have been lowered, with several companies announcing their intentions to exit coal due to shareholder pressure. When combined with the demand to eliminate coal from the output mix, receiving a good price for these commodities, which are still extremely profitable, is causing a dilemma.
Developing business prospects in the mining industry
Companies in the mining industry are responding. Some of the industry’s biggest names have agreed to collaborate on the creation of voluntary, transparent climate-related financial risk statements for use by businesses in reporting to investors, banks and other stakeholders. Companies have also set specific goals and made public announcements about programs that demonstrate their commitment to using renewable energy sources.
The need for mining companies to become even more environmentally conscious has not gone unnoticed. Because of technological advancements, workers are less likely to be forced to navigate dangerous mining shafts and face exposure to noxious substances. Improvements in mining and extraction equipment used to find and extract minerals have resulted in a new level of accuracy, reducing the amount of excavation that is unnecessary. The push to minimise carbon emissions has had an impact on the upkeep and improvement of mine vehicle fleets using hydrogen power elsewhere on site.
Similar announcements have been made by a number of other firms. Surprisingly, these aren’t all environmentally conscious decisions; they’re even, in most cases, profitable. For remote mines not linked to the electricity grid, the rapid lowering in solar and wind energy costs in recently has made renewable energy an increasingly attractive alternative to fossil-fuelled resources.
Opportunities and prospects for the future
In the short term, electrification based on renewable energy sources seems to be the way to go. In two-thirds of the planet, solar and wind are the most cost-effective types of new generation energy. As a result, miners can secure lower-cost long-term power purchase deals off-site than they can with thermal generation. Mining ventures, on the other hand, are scheduled to run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, necessitating uninterrupted electricity access.
Solar energy is being adopted by some miners. Solar energy harnesses the sun’s rays to generate concentrated solar electricity, also known as photovoltaic power, which is one of the most environmentally friendly power sources. Solar power does not contribute to the environmental risks associated with nuclear power, such as water contamination, nitrogen oxides, and other hazardous waste, despite its low cost, but cannot be used for recurring energy expenditures such as HVAC and aircon maintenance.
Water is a valuable resource for natural gas, coal, oil, and uranium mining. Toxic wastewater is generated during the extraction of fuel from mine sites. Reprocessing nuclear or old coal plants with improved water treatment systems, on the other hand, helps to reduce the number of withdrawals, which is better for the climate. Beyond the connection between water and energy, the decisions we make today will decide how we respond to future demand.
There are some important considerations when it comes to batteries, including their scale, weight, and energy density. Batteries have a much lower energy density than gasoline or hydrogen. This will eventually result in more weight – batteries are heavier – which is inefficient in the long run because you’ll have to haul the extra weight and deal with the problem of finding more room. Another factor to consider is energy consumption and refueling time. As previously said, recharging a battery takes longer than recharging hydrogen or gasoline. Owing to recharge downtime and facilities, this will have an effect on fleet size, as more trucks will be needed.
As a result, it is obvious that the energy industries will have a solid future symbiotic relationship. To achieve net zero emissions, the energy industry needs metals and minerals to be mined. Similarly, the mining industry will increasingly depend on renewable energy to help it transition from a dirty picture to a clean one, thus maintaining and increasing investor interest.