Making sustainability achievable and profitable

Jess Maddren is segment director for Pacific Region, Mining at Schneider Electric.

Maddren tells Australian Mining of the industry’s efforts in moving towards net zero carbon emissions, highlighting Rio Tinto’s partnership with Schneider Electric and how other companies are following suit.

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Mining is moving steadily towards a goal of net zero carbon emissions, with players big and small rethinking their approach to sustainability.

It’s more than just adding some renewables into the mix — the sector is broadening the way we look at sustainability. We’re asking what contributes to being more sustainable and discovering that sustainability is not just achievable, it can also be profitable.

For mining and minerals assets, the cost of energy normally ranges from a quarter to 40 per cent of the cost of production, depending on the size of the hauling fleet and the complexity of the processing plant.

Reimagining how a mine and processing plant operates and the interaction between the process and energy usage is the key to improving performance. This is active energy management and it is one of the fastest ways to begin decarbonising mining operations as well as reducing capital expenditure, downtime and energy usage.

To date, two big programs have provided the platform for active energy management.

The first is value chain integration which has been about getting the mining operational chain to operate as one business, with integrated operations centres ensuring mine, processing, rail and port were optimised together.

The second is the energy transition which has been accelerating in Australia and improving the energy mix with an abundance of renewable power.  Today, we can optimise energy usage through hybrid microgrids, power and process integration in a digitally connected world.

These programs remain important, but now companies are taking the next step — with data and digital transformation they can integrate control and electrification to increase production, get to the bottom of the cost curve and be sustainable.

Once we integrate and optimise, we can look at what we can do differently.

When the sun is shining and the wind is blowing we can store energy in batteries. But what if we looked at our mine scheduling to move and process ore when those energy sources are high? What if we had reserve processing capacity to bring online to process more at the right time?

Many miners are already on this path and are setting ever more ambitious targets. Rio Tinto states that 75 per cent of electricity used at managed operations comes from renewable sources.

Rio Tinto is partnering with Schneider Electric to evaluate innovative, low carbon solutions, such as microgrids, artificial intelligence and advanced analytics and create circular economies in our ecosystems to help meet sustainability goals across operations and supply chains.

Schneider Electric Pacific Region Mining segment director Jess Maddren.

Gold Field’s Agnew mine is one of the first gold mines in the world to generate over half of its energy requirements from renewable sources and is leading the way in showing that the change is achievable.

The mine completed its hybrid electricity plant last year after commissioning five wind turbines. A $113m microgrid – which comprises a 3.5MW solar, 18MW wind and 13MW battery energy storage system – provides, on average, 55 per cent of Agnew’s energy requirements. Gold Fields is committed to installing more renewable power and battery storage across its operations, as it significantly reduces its emissions.

Companies have the potential to take and claim the ‘green’ position within the industry, not just enabling their social licence to operate and unlocking profitability, but also encouraging more mining companies to think differently.

Sustainability today goes well-beyond maintaining social license to operate, it is now a key competitive differentiator and a source of profitability. Green materials have a higher demand than current supply and demand is increasing, creating a market opportunity.

Carbon impact is becoming one of the executive decision processes.

And there is more to come. I see a massive step change in the way mining companies are mapping out green field mining operations, with approvals being subject to CO2 emissions. Cost-efficient and scalable engineering is designed from the beginning of a project so it can be connected, monitored, and controlled remotely.

To enable active energy management, Schneider Electric has teamed with industrial software innovator AVEVA to create combined technology offerings supporting the sustainability initiatives of mining companies in four key pillars: energy efficiency, yield improvement, low greenhouse emission technology adoption and new green processes.

The partner companies aim to decarbonise the mining, minerals and metals value chains through the provision of an industrial IoT platform with technology and software elements supporting the capability for energy management and automation.

With the help of modern technology and software, we are able to break down operational silos and find a meeting ground for a viable sustainability strategy, which includes renewable energy, energy efficiency projects and strategic sourcing of materials.

As a geologist I know how hard it is to find resources in the first place, so let’s produce them sustainably and efficiently. With effort and creativity, sustainability in mining is achievable.

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