The framework for reducing energy consumption in mining
One of the most common ongoing challenges for mining companies is minimizing energy consumption. Due to the energy-intensive nature of mining, it’s the one variable every company would love to control.
In the United States, fossil fuels represent the largest portion of a mine’s total energy use at 35 percent, followed by electricity at 32 percent. Along with resulting in significant savings, reducing energy consumption at a mine can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
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As commodity prices remain stagnate and operating costs go up, the time is now for mining companies to investigate renewable energy sources and shed their reliance on external energy sources. We present the framework to achieve this.
Develop a plan
Sounds simple enough but developing a solid plan is critical to reducing energy consumption in mining. A thorough plan should outline the company’s objectives while revealing short and long-term goals to achieve it. It should also establish a starting base in order to consistently evaluate and fine-tune actions. Never underestimate the powers of a thorough plan
Choose a management system
Once the plan is developed, it’s time to choose an energy management strategy. They’re great tools to streamline processes as they are tied directly to mine production systems, providing consumption data. In fact, these management systems can provide:
• Real-time energy consumption.
• Energy consumption forecasting based on specific parameters.
• Establishing optimal energy consumption targets for each mine area.
• Identifying and quantifying consumption above targets.
• Identifying and analyzing root causes of over-consumption.
• Reporting of over-consumption and changes in daily consumption.
• Understanding energy drivers such as process variables linked to energy consumption.
• Real-time calculation of sustainability Key Performance Indicators, such as kWh/t.
• Providing validated data to justify future capital investments and/or process changes.
• Creating energy models to forecast energy consumption and to determine energy targets.
Once the management system is selected, and a company has reviewed its regular energy consumption, the next step is to invest. One of the main products at the core of an energy efficiency strategy is smart meters. These unique devices have the ability to deliver critical information such as voltage, current, neutral and earth current, power, frequency, power factor, demand, energy and time-of-use metering from the mine loads.
Smart mining breakers are another potential investment as they assist in obtaining actionable energy data, including:
• kWh meters helps optimize costs and their allocation.
• Harmonic distortion rates show the quality of the electrical supply.
• Alarm notifications help secure operational control and maintenance planning.
• Continuously activated event logs and tables ensure equipment operates correctly, thus maximizing energy efficiency.
The real trick to reducing energy consumption is through continuous improvement. By continually monitoring, tweaking and reporting new updates, companies can steadily improve system stability and unplanned downtime. In addition, such systems can assist in tracking and investigating frequency stability, voltage variations, imbalances, harmonics and other conditions in order to maintain a high level of power quality, including resolving problems before they develop.
Low carbon world needs $1.7trn in mining investment
According to a new report from consultancy Wood Mackenzie, mining companies need to invest nearly $1.7trn in the next 15 years to help supply enough copper, cobalt, nickel and other metals needed for the shift to a low carbon world.
Cutting carbon emissions
The United States, Britain, Japan, Canada and others raised their targets on cutting carbon emissions to halt global warming at a summit in April hosted by US President Joe Biden.
Meeting those targets will need large-scale deployment of electric vehicles, storage for power generated from renewables and electricity transmission, all of which require industrial materials, such as lightweight aluminium and metals used in batteries such as cobalt and lithium.
Wood Mackenzie analyst Julian Kettle calculated miners needed to invest about $1.7trn during the next 15 years to “deliver a two-degree pathway - where the rise in global temperatures since pre-industrial times is limited to 2°C”.
“At an industry level, there seems to be reticence around investing sufficient capital to develop future supply at the pace and scale demanded by the energy transition (ET),” he said.
Mining firms are wary of making heavy investments after their experience of the last decade when they invested in new capacity just as demand peaked, leading to a collapse in prices and revenues. They also need to please investors, who are unlikely to want to see dividends diverted to capital spending.
Rising demands of investors related environment, social and governance (ESG) issues further add to the challenge.
Australia, Canada and Western Europe carry a low ESG risk but some of the best resources are in high-risk areas, such as Democratic Republic of Congo, which sits on about half the world’s cobalt reserves according to the U.S. Geological Survey. “Given the need to meet tough decarbonisation and ESG targets, Western governments, lenders, investors and consumers will need to get comfortable operating in jurisdictions where ESG issues are more complex,” Kettle said.
Kettle said government support was needed to help miners comply with ESG issues to ensure production from high-risk areas was conducted in an acceptable way to consumers.
“Then, and only then, will the West be able to secure sufficient volumes of the raw materials needed to pursue the energy transition in the timescales envisaged.”