The electrification of mines is not only good for the environment, but could improve project economics and strengthen licence to operate, according to mining executives from Australia and overseas.
The executives’ opinions were noted in an Ernst & Young (EY) survey carried out as a collaboration by the University of Queensland and the University of British Columbia in Canada.
EY’s report noted that Chile had outperformed other countries when it came to mine electrification due in part to a 2013 law stating that 20 per cent of the country’s energy production should come from renewable sources by the year 2025 (and 70 per cent by 2050).
The Barrick-Antofagasta Zaldivar copper mine is the first mine in the country to operate on 100 per cent renewable energy, which it achieves through a mix of hydro, solar and wind power.
“The world is already ushering in a new energy system, where cleanly generated electricity will power almost every aspect of our lives,” EY Global Mining and Metals leader Paul Mitchell said.
“The mining sector is on the verge of an electrification revolution, driven by significant cost reduction potential, lowered carbon emissions and improved worker health benefits.”
The report outlined that phased implementation of electric power was preferential to ensure companies would get full value from its implementation and lower risk, stating that the switch would require reskilling of workers.
It also noted that for the successful integration of electrification at mines to occur, the sector would require partnership between original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), mining companies and government.
The collaboration between Newmont Goldcorp, Swedish OEM Sandvik and Canadian OEM MacLean Engineering at the Borden gold mine in Canada was cited as an example of this.
Newmont Goldcorp has reportedly halved ventilation costs, delivered a 70 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and improved safety performance and staff wellbeing since the company made the switch to electric power at the site.
Another example was the partnership between Epiroc, LKAB, ABB, Combitech and Volvo in Sweden, who are testing automation and electrification technologies at ore fields in northern Sweden.
“I don’t believe that mining companies or OEMs need to develop the technology independently,” said one interviewee who was surveyed in the report.
“I believe a lot of these technologies will be commodity technology at the end of the day, so none of this should be proprietary or be seen as a competitive advantage.”