Electric Mine Consortium: decarbonising the mining industry
Electric Mine Consortium brings together a group of mining firms and industry services companies, including State of Play, Sandvik, Epiroc, OZ Minerals, South32, Gold Fields, Safescape, Dassault Systemes, Energy Vault, Hahn, Horizon Power, 3ME, IGO and Barminco, aiming to decarbonise the mining industry.
The genesis for the Consortium was the 2020 report State of Play – Electrification. The State of Play platform was initiated by VCI in partnership with The University of Western Australia in 2011 and is now the world’s largest mining research platform for strategy and innovation. It was sponsored by The Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre, METS Ignited and Project 412. The report covered extensive research aimed to understand the drivers and barriers of mine electrification, identify the key enabling technologies and enable collaboration to accelerate its adoption.
State of Play’s co-founder, Graeme Stanway, highlights that while the industry as a whole understands the benefits of mine electrification, there are still challenges to overcome on the journey towards adoption, namely cost.
“Our data shows renewables, all electric systems and batteries will help fuel the change towards a healthier, economically viable future of mining,” says Stanway. “But uncertainty remains when it comes to which area to invest in first, and how. Here in Australia, we have an abundance of renewables that the industry is tapping into, particularly in our most remote operations. Local mine sites have the opportunity to install solar, wind and battery energy storage systems to power their operations at a much cheaper cost than many global players.”
Energy Vault Co-Founder & CEO Robert Piconi maintains that minimising C02 and diesel particulates through innovative technology choices, like energy storage, is key to how the Consortium can pursue the goal of fully electric mines. “We’re pleased to become a founding member of the organisation. Our unique, long duration storage technology is especially well suited for use in mines given that it provides the opportunity for the beneficial re-use of waste tailing materials as well as other localised materials, avoiding cost disposal and environmental hazard. Importantly, Energy Vault’s solution also economically deals with severe weather environments, in particular high ambient temperature climates, with an unprecedented, low operating cost sustainably.”
3ME, so-called because of its three target markets (mining, military and marine) for electro mobility, is a tech company member specialising in resilient battery systems, software and power electronics. It works collaboratively with vehicle and platform manufacturers and end-users (static energy storage systems) to electrify their offerings. Chief Growth Officer Steve Lawn explains that 3ME has 15 years experience developing reliable battery technologies and has been working on solutions for underground mining since 2015: “We worked on a light-utility vehicle with partner Safescape and designed a 20-tonne loader with Batt Mobile Equipment.” The company can supply packages for OEMs to electrify and retrofit existing fleet with electric power sources after removing all diesel internal combustion engine components, except the transmission and drivetrain.
Open to the potential for innovation through collaboration offered by the Consortium, 3ME were previously involved in Project EVmine developed with the help of METS Ignited. “It’s a natural progression for us,” adds CEO Justin Bain. “We’re keen to help scale and accelerate the uptake of battery electric vehicle equipment for heavy industries like mining. We can offer a solution now. We’re in a position where we've got a toolkit of proven components and we can provide that last 20% level of customisation to provide the right solution. Right now, in a retrofit fashion, or right now in a new development fashion. We're ready to roll out.”
Consortium founding member Dassault Systèmes specialises in 3D design and engineering software. Geovia CEO Michelle Ash comments: “To fully realise the opportunity of zero emissions mines we also need to be able to effectively test and implement new technologies. To do this rapidly we need to be able to model and simulate them in the virtual world so we can then de-risk in the real world. We need to modernise our regulatory framework and consider what skills our sector will need across the entire workforce, from trades, technicians and university graduates, through to our scientists and PhDs.”
Working Group Goals
Executives at some of the Consortium’s other member companies have outlined a set of key goals. “Currently there is a lack of understanding on the supporting infrastructure requirements for all electric equipment and vehicles. This working group aims to establish OEM agnostic charging standards by prototyping a potential open charging system,” explains Rob Derries, Manager: Innovation & Technology at Gold Fields.
South32’s Director of Technology Development Michelle Keegan adds: “Whilst they are available, the economic and operating assumptions for light BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicles) on site are unclear. This working group will progressively convert a light vehicle fleet to battery electric across multiple consortium mine sites.”
Brett Triffett, a Transformational Technologist at OZ Minerals says that traditional asset design does not enable the realisation of the full benefits of mine electrification. “This working group is simulating a range of mines and mining methods to establish electrification performance benchmarks, a business case and future mine designs.”
“Heavy BEVs are not yet commercially available at the larger end of the scale or technically viable underground. We’re aiming to establish a greenfield electric mine, convert a full ancillary fleet to all-electric and test selected brownfield heavy EV applications,” pledges Barminco’s Plant General Manager, Peter Campain.
To realise the potential for energy storage technologies currently not operational or proven at scale in mining, IGO’s Technical Projects Lead Michael Hegarty says the Consortium aims to “test mine scale remote energy storage through installation of multiple technologies across 5+ sites.”
“The way the we generate, store and harness energy around the globe is undergoing a period of major change,” say the founding members of the Electric Mine Consortium. “A global ecosystem has begun to emerge to underpin the innovation and scaling of electrification technologies. A rare trifecta, electrification will provide economic, health and environmental value for the mining industry.
Envisaging a brighter future for mining and the communities it operates in the Consortium concludes: “Electrification creates enormous opportunities for operational cost savings, innovative mine designs and resilience against uncertainty. It will reduce the exposure to carcinogenic diesel particulates and reduce scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions by 100%. The value upside of this not only increases productivity in existing assets, but also improves a company’s ability to unlock deeper and more remote ore bodies.”
Rio Tinto partners with ARENA for green hydrogen research
Rio Tinto has partnered with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to study whether hydrogen can replace natural gas in alumina refineries to reduce emissions.
Rio Tinto and ARENA partnering for green energy push
Rio Tinto will conduct a $1.2mn feasibility study, equally funded with ARENA through a $580,000 grant, into using clean hydrogen to replace natural gas in the calcination process of refining at the Yarwun alumina refinery in Gladstone.
The study program includes work to be done at Rio Tinto’s Bundoora Technical Development Centre in Melbourne, where Rio Tinto’s in-house development capability has now been extended to hydrogen.
ARENA CEO Darren Miller commented: “If we can replace fossil fuels with clean hydrogen in the refining process for alumina, this will reduce emissions in the energy and emissions intensive refining stage of the aluminium supply chain. Exploring these new clean energy technologies and methods is a crucial step towards producing green aluminium.
“This study will investigate a potential technology that can contribute to the decarbonisation of the Australian alumina industry. If successful, the technical and commercial lessons from Rio Tinto’s study could lead to the implementation of hydrogen calcination technology, not only in Australia, but also internationally.”
Rio Tinto Aluminium Pacific Operations acting managing director Daniel van der Westhuizen added: “We see the ARENA and Rio Tinto-funded study as a step towards reducing refinery emissions and one that has the potential to play an important part in Rio Tinto’s commitment to decarbonisation.
“We’re investing in work that needs to be done, not only to decarbonise one of our sites, but also to help provide a lower-emissions pathway for Rio Tinto and the global aluminium industry.
“We recognise we are on a long road towards reducing emissions across our operations and there is clearly more work to be done. But projects such as this are an important part of helping us get there.”
Can hydrogen replace natural gas in alumina refineries?
The study comprises two distinct work packages:
- Preliminary engineering and design study conducted to understand the construction and operational requirements of a potential demonstration project at the Yarwun alumina refinery.
- Simulating the calcination process using a lab scale reactor at the Bundoora Technical Development Centre.
Once complete, the study will inform the viability of a potential demonstration project. Rio Tinto has lodged patents for the hydrogen calcination process.
Rio Tinto aiming for net zero by 2050
Rio Tinto is aiming to reach net zero emissions across its operations by 2050. Across the company, it is targeting a 15% reduction in absolute emissions and a 30% reduction in emissions intensity by 2030, from a 2018 baseline.
Aluminium is found in everything from cars to phones. But one of the challenges of producing this essential material responsibly is finding ways to decarbonise the process.
Part of the reason is creating alumina – the main ingredient in aluminium – takes a lot of energy, which in turn creates greenhouse gas emissions. New technologies will be essential to helping reduce emissions, but many haven’t been proven. And some not yet even discovered. Rio Tinto's transformation is being driven by innovation and its partnership with ARENA is a positive step towards these goals.