Mining operations are responsible for 7 to 8 percent of global carbon emissions, and to their credit, many of the largest mining companies in the world have committed to a goal of “net zero” emissions by 2050, according to the International Council on Mining and Metals. It is an ambitious goal, but observers say it is possible to attain emissions reductions of 85 percent or more in the mining sector.
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Partly due to pressure from consumers and investors, mining companies are showing a lot more interest in adopting electrification technologies. Evidence of that could be seen at the recent Electric Mine Conference in Tucson, Arizona, US.
While interest at The Electric Mine conference shows promise for the future, mine electrification is already underway. Many progressive mining companies have replaced diesel vehicles with hybrid or electric mining vehicles. These companies are also using new technology to reduce emissions from their mining operations.
Key Opportunities For Mining Electrification
- Lower operation expenditures: Electrification of mining operations can reduce energy costs by up to 70 percent and maintenance costs for vehicles by around 30 percent, according to McKinsey.
- Greater efficiency: Electric equipment offers many advantages over conventional equipment, including faster cycle times, fewer breakdowns, and the facilitation of material transport with steeper ramps.
- Lower emissions: A completely electrified mine would have emissions up to 80 percent lower than a conventional mine. This would allow a mining company to avoid carbon taxes and use clean energy incentives.
Challenges of Mining Electrification
- Upfront costs: Electrifying current operations requires major investments in power infrastructure. For example, electrifying one mining sector could cost tens of billions of dollars, according to McKinsey.
- Necessary upgrades. Switching a mining operation over to all-electrical requires new connections to the grid, the creation of on-site substations, and greater power capacity.
- Technical challenges. While electric vehicle technology can be cost-effective, electrification would benefit greatly from battery technology that is cheaper, faster charging, and with higher power density.
Because of the opportunities presented and despite the challenges, many companies are moving forward with electrification plans.
ABB and Norge Mining Partner for an Electric Mine Site Study
In a recently announced landmark deal, electrification and automation company ABB is partnering with Norge Mining to conduct an engineering and design study on a proposed mine in southern Norway.
According to a press release from ABB, the mine is expected to produce large amounts of titanium, vanadium, and phosphate, essential raw materials for clean energy technologies. For example, phosphate can be processed to produce lithium-iron phosphate batteries, as well as agricultural fertilizer. According to Norge Mining, the site of the upcoming study has as much as 70 billion tons of phosphate rock. If ABB and Norge Mining can develop more sustainable mining operations, it will create a feedback loop of sustainability as these “clean energy” minerals are removed from the earth.
The study will focus on the complete electrification of the Bjerkreim-Sokndal Layered Intrusion site in southern Norway and downstream operations. In particular, the study will look at control systems and the integration of mining operations using electrification and automation technologies. The study will also focus on potential cost efficiency and productivity by recommending ways to lower energy consumption, optimize capital expenditure, and lower operating expenses during construction and operation.
The joint study will be based on ABB’s proprietary eMine™ approach to electrification and automation of mining operations. This approach uses all-electric vehicles and integrated software to eliminate carbon emissions and boost efficiency.
The Five Pillars of ABB’s eMine™ Solution
From the initial concept and design of mining operations to ongoing service, eMine™ is a comprehensive approach to making mining operations more sustainable while maintaining competitiveness.
This comprehensive solution incorporates interoperable digital, electrification, and automation technologies. In addition to making mining operations more electric, eMine™ streamlines processes and identifies inefficiencies. ABB applications collect operational data and analyze it to monitor various activities and identify any maintenance or corrective actions that need to be taken.
ABB describes this approach as being based on five key pillars:
1. ABB’s Proprietary Technologies
ABB has various technical solutions capable of electrifying mining operations “from the mine to the market.” Built on decades of experience in electrifying and automating mining operations, these technologies are designed to be more sustainable but still capable of meeting standard operational demands.
Every company and every mining operation is different. Because of this, the success of the eMine™ approach — and electrification of the entire mining sector — must be based on collaborations among equipment manufacturers, mine operators, and government regulators. ABB is currently working with manufacturers to fast-track the creation of new emissions-reduction systems that can be integrated into automated electric mining operations.
3. Early-Stage Involvement
Because an all-electric mine functions much differently than a traditional mining operation, it is critical to plan and design properly from the earliest stages. According to ABB, getting started on the ground floor provides added value and greater cost savings while reducing complexity. Early-stage collaboration between ABB and the mining company helps create interoperable and fit-for-purpose systems. Early collaboration also facilitates the monitoring and controlling processes once a mining operation is up and running.
4. Bespoke Solutions
Due to the unique challenges of each site, eMine™ is based on providing bespoke electrification and automation solutions. Over the past decade, ABB has provided custom solutions for vehicle charging infrastructure tailored to meet the needs of specific underground and open pit operations. Custom infrastructure must then be connected to tailored solutions for monitoring and process control.
5. Ongoing Monitoring, Control Services, and Training
After custom solutions are up and running, the eMine™ approach continues with ongoing monitoring through automated digital technology. ABB has several solutions capable of collecting and analyzing operational mining data. If an issue does arise, eMine is designed to provide a fast and flexible response. Monitoring can also help with lifecycle management and performance improvement.
The company also provides expert consultation to help identify any inefficiencies and recommend courses of action. To ensure that mining staff are making use of best practices when working in the eMine™ system, ABB provides regular training sessions.
As an entire approach, the eMine™ program is designed to ensure an operation has the proper fit of technologies and systems for electrification. In addition to making operations more sustainable, eMine™ helps with compliance and competitiveness. ABB bills this solution as a one-stop shop for mining companies looking to get on the electrification bandwagon.
Read More: Enabling Net-Zero Mining in Open-Pit and Underground Mines
References and Further Reading
Henrio, M., van der Ende, O., Motta, G., & Ray, R. K. (2023, April 24). Mining electrification could double their electricity demand. McKinsey & Company. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/metals-and-mining/our-insights/electrifying-mines-could-double-their-electricity-demand
ABB. (2023). 5 pillars to transition to all-electric mine - ABB Ability eMine. https://new.abb.com/mining/e-mine/5-pillars-to-transition-to-all-electric-mine
Normet. Beyond regulation: What is driving electrification in mining? Mining Technology. https://www.mining-technology.com/sponsored/what-is-driving-electrification-in-mining/
Beauchemin, A. (2023, April 29). Is the future of mining electric? As mines transition equipment, new risks emerge. CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/is-the-future-of-mining-electric-1.6419548