Leading multinational mining companies have been stepping up their investments in and deployment of on-site solar, battery energy storage and hybrid natural gas power systems. Billed as “the mine of the future,” Newmont Goldcorp’s all-electric Borden gold mine near Chapleau, Ontario, Canada marks a milestone in this regard.
Wholly owned by Newmont Goldcorp and due to begin commercial production in this year’s fourth quarter (4Q’19), the Borden mine features “state-of-the-art health and safety controls, digital mining technologies and processes, and low-carbon energy vehicles,” according to management. A mutually beneficial partnership with local, First Nations communities should help ensure a successful operation, they add.
Environmental and social governance (ESG) and ethical investing have emerged front and center on the strategic agendas of mining executives and companies. That includes reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as well as minimizing water resources use and the amount of toxic metals and minerals that result from ore processing and refining.
Environmental and social governance at the top of mining executives strategic agenda
“Borden opens a new gold mining district in Ontario and profitably extends operations at the Porcupine complex near Timmins,” said Newmont Goldcorp President Tom Palmer. “In addition, Borden’s electric underground fleet will eliminate diesel particulate matter from the underground environment and lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This will help reduce energy costs, protect employee health and minimize impacts to the environment.” The ore extracted from the Borden Mine is processed 180 kilometers (km) to the east, at the company’s Porcupine plant in Timmins.
Public and government pressure is keeping ethical investing and the risk of losing their operating licenses the top-ranked risk to their businesses for mining executives for the second year running, according to global management consultants Ernst & Young (EY).
Some 44% of global mining and metals executives ranked environmental and social governance (ESG) and the loss of a social contract the number one threat to their businesses. “The mining and metals sector is facing greater scrutiny from end consumers, demanding a transparent, ethical supply chain, as well as a lower carbon footprint,” according to the report.
Increased stakeholder pressure and the rise of ethical (environmental, social and governance, or ESG) investing continues to keep license to operate top of mind for the sector in Canada and abroad.
Solar, storage and reducing emissions and costs of producing metals and minerals
Cheaper, inherently scalable and increasingly efficient, solar power and battery energy storage, along with smart grid technology and systems are playing a growing role in helping miners resolve these interlinked political, socioeconomic and environmental issues. In addition, EY’s report follows in the wake of the Climate Action Summit and environmental activist Greta Thunberg’s recent, “searing address at the United Nations last week, in which the 16-year-old chided world leaders for not doing enough to address climate change,” EY points out.
It also comes on the heels of Rio Tinto, the world’s second-largest miner, signing an agreement with Baowu, China’s biggest steelmaker, to develop and implement ways to reduce carbon emissions in the steel sector, which is responsible for about 9% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the report authors add.
French multinational Total has built its business into one of the world’s largest integrated oil and gas corporations. More recently, it probably has been the most aggressive of its peers when it comes to investing in renewable energy and clean technology. That includes providing hybrid solar-diesel systems to the world’s miners.
Via its SunPower subsidiary, a leading integrated provider of solar power, and increasingly energy storage, systems, and another Total acquisition, Tenesol, Total has the capacity to design and deploy bespoke off-grid solutions backed by a corporation with nearly 30 years of experience working in remote, difficult geographical areas and meeting off-grid energy consumption needs, the company touts.
Major miners raise investments in solar, battery energy storage and on-site clean energy systems
Another Total subsidiary, international solar project developer Total Eren built what’s said to be the world’s largest hybrid solar photovoltaic-diesel facility. The 15-megawatt (MW) hybrid power plant has been providing cost-effective, emissions-free electricity for IAMGOLD’s Essakane SA gold mine in Burkina Faso since mid-March. All told, Total Mining Solutions is working with some 200 miners to design and implement solar and smart, clean energy solutions.
A cursory scan of industry news and research reveals a few other solar power projects recently completed or in progress among the world’s major miners. Solar Magazine has been doing its best to keep track of and report on them.
- Anglo American Platinum recently signed an agreement with Primus Power to install eight EnergyPod battery systems at its Amandelbult mine in Limpopo, South Africa. With a power/energy capacity of 200 kilowatts (kW)/1,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh), the battery energy storage systems are designed to be charged when the cost of grid electricity is low and discharged for use to reduce the electricity the mine draws from the local utility grid. Troubled South African utility Eskom is said to be testing Primus’s EnergyPod system at its large-scale energy storage test facility in Rosherville to improve the reliability, efficiency and durability of its national power grid, as well.
- GMA Garnet has signed a long-term power purchase agreement(PPA) with Advanced Energy Resources (AER), to install Western Australia’s first grid-connected wind-solar and battery storage facility. The AUD 8 million PPA paves the way forward for construction of a 3-MW wind-solar-battery storage facility near the pink lakes of Port Gregory, located some 60km south of the town of Kalbarri. The hybrid, on-site renewable power system is expected to provide nearly 70% of the mine’s electricity needs and facilitate GMA Garnet’s transition to 100% renewable energy. The mining company intends to reduce its carbon footprint by roughly 5,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, according to management. “Price certainty is an important consideration for our business, which sells high-quality garnet to an international market,” Chief Financial Officer Grant Cox said. “AER’s experience and established track record in the renewable energy sector has given us comfort that AER’s wind and solar farm will be a truly practical way of reducing our input costs while also hedging against the ever-increasing cost of electricity.”
- Gold miner Resolute Mining Limited recently signed a Joint Development Agreement (JDA) with Ignite Energy Projects Pty Ltd to provide a hybrid power solution for Resolute’s Syama Gold Project in Mali. Expected to cut the mine’s power costs 40% per year, the off-grid, 40-MW hybrid solar power plant will combine solar, battery, and heavy fuel oil (HFO) technologies and is expected to be the largest in the world of its kind when it comes online in 2020.
- Canada’s Caledonia Mining Corp. recently issued a call for tenders for an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor to install an off-grid solar-plus-storage system at the Blanket gold mine in Zimbabwe’s South Matabeleland Province. The Blanket Mine has been operating since 1904. Proposals are due November 8 and the system is to be deployed in three phases of 6.55 MW each. It also must be capable of dispatching electricity for mine use in the nighttime. No details as to the capacity or nature of the energy storage system were given, however.
Miners’ carbon emissions reductions initiatives advance
Looking ahead, EY recommends mining executives focus on reducing their indirect GHG emissions. Dubbed Scope 3 emissions in the UN climate accords, Scope 3 GHG emissions are those produced by miners’ customers.
Besides GHG emissions and other types of pollution, EY highlights other risks mining executives interviewed cited as significant threats to their businesses. The “future of workforce” rose from seventh to second place in EY’s ranking as a result of the increasing demand for and difficulty attracting employees with the digital and data-related skills the “future of workforce” required to design, build and operate the mines of the future, for instance.
“Mining and metals companies will have to assess the markets they sell to and consider the impact of selling to customers who produce substantial emissions in the use of their products,” they add. comment