Top energy trends guide miners in net zero journey

2022-01-20T13:54:12+00:00 January 24th, 2022|Bulletin|

Aggreko, provider of mobile and modular power solutions, has released its top tips to help miners decarbonise now and into the future.

Aggreko hybrid power plants combining renewables with battery storage and other sources. Credit by: Aggreko

“For some miners it’s about knowing where to start and they may be weighing up the cost, risk and threat of new technology in the future,” explained Rod Saffy, Aggreko’s Global Head of Mining.

“Fortunately, technology isn’t in the same place as it was five years ago or even two years ago. Some of the renewable power technologies available today, combined with thermal generation in a hybrid solution offer the same – if not better – levels of reliability and competitiveness than traditional thermal technology,” said Saffy.

According to Saffy, power generation companies are taking significant steps to support miners on their respective paths to net-zero emissions. “Increasingly, power companies are offering renewables such as solar and wind energy to off-grid mines, and often integrate those with battery storage solutions and thermal microgrids.”

He emphasised the advantages of partnering with power generation companies long-term, without being tied down to one fuel type for a power source, introducing new technology as and when it becomes viable for the operation. He noted, “If you consider a hybrid power solution – where you switch in renewables to your power mix alongside fossil fuels – your operation will be more flexible and can scale up and down as needed.” He pointed out that integrating renewables in this manner would result in greater cost-savings and efficiencies for a project.

Case studies

Per Aggreko, one solar and thermal hybrid solution the company delivered to a remote gold mine in Africa resulted in more than 12% savings in fuel (about 10 000 litres a day) and the contract offered meant the miner did not have to come up with capital to invest in the solar plant.

Saffy also cited a second example – a hybrid solar and thermal power solution for the Salares Norte open pit mine in Chile.

“It is a ground-breaking solution designed to provide power for the entire mine, which is located at an altitude of 4 500m in the Andes Mountain range and is 190km from the nearest town,” he said.

“Once complete the hybrid power plant is expected to achieve USD7.4-million in savings over the next decade, and a further USD1.1-million in carbon tax offset over the life of the mine, in addition to 104,000 tonnes of carbon emissions savings.

“The system will surpass the Chilean government’s environmental standards as well as Gold Fields’ requirement for a minimum of 20% renewable power generation for mining operations.”

Renewable energy power systems in action. Credit by: Aggreko

Popular routes to decarbonisation currently:

According to Saffy, the pathways to decarbonisation that hold the most appeal for miners currently include:

  • Hybrid power plants: These combine renewables (such as solar and wind) with thermal generation and battery storage, benefitting areas with limited or no access to permanent power. These are generally cost-competitive. Once solar or wind plants are installed, their generation running costs are relatively low and at zero emissions.
  • Virtual gas pipelines: Gas power generation offers a greener and more cost-effective alternative to diesel and heavy fuel oil. A virtual pipeline is a substitute, and an alternative, for a physical pipeline. Gas is instead transported as liquefied natural gas (LNG) or compressed natural gas (CNG) to the point of use by sea, road, or rail. For mines not connected to a physical pipeline and looking to switch to gas from diesel, a virtual pipeline model simply imitates their current supply solution. For users who are connected to a gas pipeline but are looking to supplement insufficient or unreliable pipeline capacity, the virtual power plant solution has several advantages over diesel.
  • Renewable energy: Renewable energy power systems are an effective way of tapping into natural resources to provide power, such as wind farms, hydro power and solar. The challenge is their reliability on weather, it is therefore important to ensure they’re backed with batteries or by a temporary thermal power solution, should the power be interrupted for any reason.
  • A significant future fuel in this space would be hydrogen. Investment in hydrogen is on the rise too because of the role it can play in supporting a global transition to net-zero. Its versatility and compatibility with existing furnaces, engines and generators make it particularly appealing for the mining industry. Businesses around the world are at the beginning of their hydrogen journeys and need to be supported to find the best ways of integrating it into their operations.

Saffy says that energy sources likely to become more prevalent in mining during the next 10 years include; biofuels (would become less expensive), hydropower, energy storage (such as pumped, mechanical flywheel), and gas generation which runs with a hybrid renewable system. While it is increasingly utilised now as power source, wind and solar power is also expected to gain more momentum.

The company is experimenting with mobile wind solutions, re-deployable solar panels, and tidal wave power (though tidal wave power might not be for the mining industry yet). The company is also accelerating its investments in hydrogen technology. Trials are underway in Europe on two different technologies, and Aggreko is collaborating with lead customers and partners trialing hydrogen generators and fuel cell battery hybrids.

“It’s a very exciting time in the mining sector, and it will be amazing to see the innovations presented during the next few years as miners and energy companies collaborate and come up with new ideas for a greener future,” concluded Saffy.

“The key though is to start now – one can embrace renewables now into one’s energy mix because, done correctly, cost and emission savings can be greatly reduced without compromising reliability.”

The company has its own net-zero goals by 2050 and has a 2030 target to reduce diesel use in its customer solutions by 50%.