Mining companies successfully switching to renewable energy

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By Ellsworth Dickson

Exploration and mining companies would love to have renewable energy powering their operations. Not only would they save money, there would be less greenhouse gases and other harmful emissions. For remote operations that fly in barrels of diesel fuel by helicopters for their generators, wouldn’t it be great to eliminate that cost and nuisance? But does it work for the mining sector?

Yes, renewable energy is suitable for mining companies and they have been proving it for over a decade.

For example, in 2011, Barrick Gold [ABX-TSX], a leader in alternative energy for mines, completed its $50 million Punta Colorada wind operation, making it the first wind farm built by a mining company in Chile. It supplies energy to the Chilean power grid.

The Zaldívar copper mine in Chile will be the country’s first mine to operate with 100% renewable electricity. The mine, a joint venture between Antofagasta and Barrick, recently signed a contract Colbun S.A. to supply Zaldívar electricity derived from hydro, solar, or wind sources for 10 years starting in July 2020.

That is enough power to replace greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 350,000 tonnes per year, or about 87,000 vehicles per year.

The wind turbine at Barrick’s Veladero mine in Argentina can supply up to 20% of the mine’s electricity needs. At 4,100 metres above sea level, it is the highest altitude wind generator in the world.

In western Nevada, Barrick has a 1 megawatt solar energy farm adjacent to its 115 megawatt natural gas generating station.

Barrick was recognized for its renewable energy initiatives at the Energy and Mines Renewables in Mining Awards. The company earned the award for Outstanding Commitment to Renewables.

However, Barrick is not the only miner into renewable energy. In Western Australia, South African miner Goldfields is transitioning to renewable power for off-grid mining operations at its Agnew gold mine. The Agnew Hybrid Renewable Project is Australia’s largest hybrid renewable energy microgrid and the first to utilize wind generation at a mine site.

Stage 1 is a new off-grid 23MW power station incorporating 16MW gas and 3MW diesel generation and 4MW solar generation from the new solar farm. Stage 1 was completed in July 2019 and saw 10% of the mine’s electrical energy requirements coming from renewables.

Commissioning of Stage 2 is underway and due for completion in May 2020 and will see the mines renewable electricity fraction increase to 50-60%. This phase of the project is supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and includes five wind turbines that will generate 18MW, a 13MW/4MWh battery energy storage system and an advanced micro-grid control system.

It’s worth noting that the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, an independent agency of the Australian federal government established in 2012 to manage Australia’s renewable energy programs, has committed almost $1.2 billion towards more than 370 projects.

In Ghana, West Africa, in September 2018, UK-based solar company Cambridge Energy Partners (CEP) announced that Newmont Mining had deployed CEP’s Nomad mobile solar power array at its Akyem gold mine.

What about a hybrid renewable energy system? In Eritrea, Africa, UK-based power generating company Aggreko announced a 10-year agreement to provide solar-diesel hybrid power to the Bisha mine owned by Chinese miner Zijin. The system generates 22MW of diesel and 7.5MW of solar-generated power for the Bisha mine’s copper and zinc operations.

In a recent report, consultancy firm THEnergy stated that in 2019 there was an increasing number of mining companies committing to developing renewable energy at their mines.

The report stated that “The year 2019 has been identified as the tipping point. The business case for partly substituting expensive fuel like diesel, heavy fuel oil (HFO) or gas by solar and wind had been positive on paper for years. However, actual projects have evolved slowly.”

During 2019, nearly a dozen new projects were announced and others were under development.

At the 7th Energy and Mines World Congress in Toronto in December where some 100 miners met to discuss topics related to sustainable and environmentally-friendly solutions to their power needs, most mining companies said they are willing to decarbonize and pursue initiatives that go well beyond renewables, such as electrification of mining vehicles.

Regarding electric mining vehicles, Caterpillar has over 250 patents in the electric drive and energy storage fields with products like the D7E dozer, F-Series Asphalt Pavers, 794 AC and 795F AC large mining trucks, the recently introduced 988K XE wheel loader, and integrated electric drive train technology and components for underground machines.

Renewable energy for miners is no longer a concept – it is here to stay.

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