Inmarsat: The Rise of IoT in Mining
The latest research from , the world leader in global, mobile satellite communications, has found that mining businesses expect to invest a considerable portion of their IT budgets into the (IoT) over the next three years, while the sector’s leading investors are already seeing tangible benefits, such as improved health and safety and staff productivity. This level of planned spend on IoT marks it out as a critical next generation technology as mining companies continue to navigate the Covid-19 pandemic, giving them the tools to become more resilient, more flexible and quicker to adapt and react to change.
These findings are taken from the latest edition of Inmarsat’s research programme into IoT trends, . Focusing on investment levels across Industry 4.0 technologies, the research found that, over the past three years, cloud computing, cybersecurity and IoT have seen the highest percentage of budgetary investment, totalling 5.7%, 4.2% and 3.9% respectively. These three technologies are set to retain the highest percentage of investment in the next three years rising to 9.8%, 8.4% and 7.6% respectively. This reflects the wider increases across the other technologies surveyed, including machine learning, artificial intelligence and robotics.
Encouragingly, mining companies also reported that their IoT deployments are continuing to make a positive impact on their bottom line. Currently, cost savings amounting to an average of 5.1% are being reported. Hopes of a future impact on cost savings are more pronounced, rising steadily from 7.7% in 12 months, 13.8% in three years’ and a significant 18.9% in five years’ time. This is a signficiant increase on previous research, where in 2018 mining organisations reported average current cost savings of an average of 1.76%, expected to rise to 16.02% by 2023. This not only illustrates the immediate return on investment (ROI) that IoT has brought to the sector over the past few years, but also the continued confidence the sector has in IoT to bring long-term cost savings.
Commenting on the findings, Nicholas Prevost, Director of Mining, Inmarsat, said: “Mining companies are starting to place more faith in IoT technologies, and with increased adoption they are starting to see an increase in cost savings amongst other tangible benefits. In the next five years this return on investment is set to grow further, ensuring that those companies investing in IoT are those that will lead the pack. From an investor community perspective, investment in IoT is a good indicator of a mining organisation’s resilience, efficiency and commitment to safety and sustainability. These are the sorts of markers that will ensure mining companies can thrive in the present and in the future, particularly in light of the challenges that Covid-19 has thrown at the industry.”
Prevost further stated: “However, accessing the benefits of IoT is dependent on a number of factors that contribute to successful deployments: the right skills and leadership, a commitment to cyber-security, the right use of data and perhaps most importantly the right connectivity. IoT relies on a number of interconnected connectivity technologies to work optimally. Inmarsat’s L-band satellite connectivity is particularly ideal for deployments in remote areas, where the bulk of mining happens, because of its superior reliability and coverage. Inmarsat is proud to be working with our mining partners to ensure their deployments are successful and they can achieve ROI wherever they are.”
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.