Gold mining is one of the worst industrial sources of global greenhouse gas emissions. It makes sense that decarbonization needs to happen across the industry to increase sustainability standards and reach net-zero targets for 2050. Mining companies are increasingly investing in solar and wind technologies to economize and reduce their operational carbon emissions.
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Gold Mining’s Effect on the Environment
A published report from The World Gold Council estimated that gold miners emitted as much as 32,689 tons of CO2 per ton of gold in 2018, a 12% rise compared to the previous year. Therefore, it is not surprising as government policies have become stricter and more corporations are making sustainable net-zero commitments, the mining industry has come under increasing pressure to change and decarbonize.
US-based Newmont has pledged to invest 500 million USD over the next five years in climate change initiatives, such as solar and wind technology, to become carbon neutral by 2050. This comes with the commitment of a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, on the way to becoming net-zero by 2050.
The funds come with operating costs and development capital, acting as a starting point for a more energy-efficient and sustainable future. The company has also made the commitment to reduce 30% of its carbon emissions by 2030. Palmer mentioned that Newmont is in the process of studying solar and wind installations, micro-grid technologies, and energy-efficient equipment at its Peñaquisito mine in Mexico and Ahafo mine in Ghana, among other sites.
Much will need to be done across the organization to hit these targets. Newmont will be publishing a climate strategy report next year to communicate the establishment of renewable energy and micro-grid technology in its operations. It will be holistically comprehensive, formulated in accordance with the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, presenting the decisions being made, financial risks, and climate-related considerations. It will also detail Newmont’s governance, strategy, and portfolio for a variety of climate-related scenarios.
The report will also help to monitor the company’s annual progress to its 2030 mission while executing emissions reduction projects across its portfolio.
Leaders of Sustainable Change in Mining
Barrick Gold is another leader in alternative energy for mines, having laid out plans to reduce emissions by at least 10% within only a decade.
Barrick completed a $50 million Punta Colorada wind operation, being the first wind farm built by a mining company in Chile, supplying energy efficiently to the Chilean power grid.
The Zaldívar copper mine will be the country’s first mine to operate with 100% renewable electricity. The mine is a joint venture between Barrick and Antofagasta, which recently signed a contract to supply Zaldívar electricity from hydro, solar, or wind sources for a decade since July 2020. This is enough power to replace greenhouse gas emissions of about 350,000 tons per year, which is the equivalent of around 87,000 vehicles per year.
In Argentina, the wind turbine at Barrick’s Veladero mine supplies up to 20% of the mine’s electricity needs. It is the highest altitude wind generator in the world, being a staggering 4100 meters above sea level. Located in western Nevada, Barrick also has a 1-megawatt solar energy farm next to its 115-megawatt natural gas generating station.
Considering all these commitments, 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.
Sustainable Change Echoes Across the Mining Industry
Many other mining companies have been following suit across the globe. Mining giant Glencore previously announced plans to cut emissions from all facets of its business by 40% over the next 15 years, on the way to achieving carbon-neutral status by 2050.
Australia’s Resolute Mining partnered with the power developer Ignite Energy in 2018 to set up a 40 MW hybrid solar, battery, and heavy fuel oil (HFO) plant at its Syama Gold Mine in Mali.
To the west of Australia, South African miner Goldfields is transitioning to renewable power to fuel its off-grid mining operations at its Agnew gold mine. This is part of the Agnew Hybrid Renewable Project, which is Australia’s largest hybrid renewable energy microgrid and the first to directly harness wind power on the site of a mine.
In Brazil, mining group Vale revealed plans to construct a 766 MWp solar PV plant to supply 13% of its electricity by 2025.
Using renewable energy technology as a means of cost control and carbon reduction is a wise strategy for these companies, including Centamin at its Sukari gold mine. There is clearly a demand for more sustainable solutions in the mining industry, as the CEO, Martin Horgan mentioned that investors were demanding cleaner technological solutions in the business.
Based on the cases discussed, we can see how solar and wind technologies clearly work well while integrated into mining operations to power the business while also cutting carbon emissions.
References and Further Reading
African mines note benefits of investing in renewables [Online]. Engineering news. Available at: https://www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/african-mines-note-benefits-of-investing-in-renewables-2021-05-04/rep_id:4136
Climate Change – Sustainability [Online]. Newmont website. Available at: https://www.newmont.com/sustainability/Climate-Change/default.aspx
Gold mining group Newmont to invest 500 million in solar and wind projects [Online]. PV-Tech. Available at: https://www.pv-tech.org/gold-mining-group-newmont-to-invest-us500-million-in-solar-and-wind-projects/
Mali gold mine to halve energy costs with 40mw solar storage hfo plant [Online]. PV-Tech. Available at: https://www.pv-tech.org/mali-gold-mine-to-halve-energy-costs-with-40mw-solar-storage-hfo-plant/
Mining companies successfully switching to renewable energy [Online]. Resource world. Available at: https://resourceworld.com/mining-companies-successfully-switching-to-renewable-energy/
Project round up mining firm plans 766mwp facility in Brazil, Renesola sells polish parks [Online]. PV-Tech. Available at: https://www.pv-tech.org/project-round-up-mining-firm-plans-766mwp-facility-in-brazil-renesola-sells-polish-parks/