Bianca Visagie, Lionel Buck & Gerrit van Eeden
17 March 2022
The mining sector is constantly under pressure from governments, society, and investors to reduce carbon emissions. Mining is responsible for 4% – 7% of greenhouse gas emissions globally, mainly due to energy-intensive mining processes. Fossil fuels remain the primary source of energy for most mines.
Fortunately, the mining industry is in an excellent position to create a sustainable future through decarbonisation. Mines now have multiple options, as well as a suite of technologies, to choose from that could aid in decarbonisation efforts.
Energy and mining industry experts in South Africa detailed how the industry is grappling with the technical challenges of decarbonisation in mining. In the post below we’ll detail some options that could aid in decarbonisation, and how Integrove can assist with the technical challenges.
Decarbonisation in Mining
Mining metals needed for decarbonisation
PGMs (platinum group metals), copper, nickel, and iron ore are key raw materials for renewable energy generation. Smart grids, hydrogen economies, and other emerging technologies can benefit from these raw materials.
Renewable energy sources
Mines can integrate more renewable energy sources into their operations. South Africa specifically needs to address its energy challenges for green energy transitions to succeed. For example, northern regions in South Africa have an abundance of sunlight that can be harnessed to alleviate energy requirements on the existing coal-powered grid.
Improving operational efficiency
Upgrading the operational efficiency of mines through digitisation can lead to improved processes and performances, which in turn generates the cash flow needed to invest in renewable energy sources. Improvements in operational efficiency can also reduce emissions by reducing overall energy consumption. Digital solutions can pinpoint atmospheric carbon releases per plant section and even go into detail about which assets are consuming more than normal energy. This can be monitored/inspected or replaced via the findings.
Both hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and battery-electric vehicles are viable long-term solutions. Both open-cast and underground trackless mining equipment are serial diesel consumers. There is great potential to retrofit the existing drivetrains of these vehicles with hydrogen and electric-powered alternatives
Establishing decarbonisation technologies
Decarbonisation requires an understanding and integration of legacy technologies and new technologies. Technical competence is also required to identify technology timelines and availability.
All the options listed above cannot exist in isolation. However, a strategic decarbonisation plan relies heavily on digitisation. Digitisation can thus be seen as the common thread amongst all options that could aid decarbonisation.
A digital path to decarbonisation in mining
Digitisation will be a key factor in making renewable energy sources more efficient and sustainable. However, decarbonisation requires a balance between legacy systems and new technologies. A digital path to decarbonisation could include the following:
Better integration between systems
Integration of web-based energy management platforms with operational/production platforms can improve the following:
- Emissions usage identifications per plant functional location
- Identifying possible process enhancements to improve efficiency
- Energy usage performance monitoring – forecast vs actual
- Monitors performance of sites according to energy usage
Using digital twins
Digital twins allow mining companies to conduct troubleshooting, planning, and exploration without having an impact on the environment. It is possible to operate and analyze digital twins virtually.
A digital twin can be trained to monitor normal carbon usage (trained to see normal allowable carbon usages) via actual usage and pinpoints/notifies users when anomalies (emissions limits) occur during normal operations.
However, creating digital twins and successfully integrating systems require unique technical skills. A digital path to decarbonisation includes skills such as critical thinking, data visualization, and proactive decision-making based on predictive analytics. Here’s how Integrove can assist with those skills:
Decarbonisation in Mining with Integrove
At Integrove, we specialise in bespoke digital solutions that assist mines with decarbonisation efforts. Change management skills, advanced system development and integration skills, data science and digital literacy skills, higher-level operations and planning skills, business information systems operations and analysis skills are among the core skills we have available at Integrove. At Integrove we also have the ability to work alongside and effectively integrate legacy systems and new technologies, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics into mining activities.