New joint Deloitte Norcat mining innovation report looks at opportunities & challenges in powering the future of mining

In their latest joint mining innovation report released February 27 entitled Powering the future of mining – from energy technology to core design, Deloitte Canada and Norcat argue that developing the mines of tomorrow requires forward-thinking energy strategies and the integration of emerging energy solutions into today’s operations. “The means are almost here: emerging, game-changing technological innovations are becoming more financially viable. There is opportunity for mining companies to reshape the way mines are designed and steer energy strategies toward broader transformational shifts.” But the trend toward electrification, digitisation, and decarbonisation also means leaders need to understand the benefits to the business – and the potential implementation challenges–to plan and adjust to the new energy future.

“With the cost reductions, predictability of energy costs, as well as social licence and acceptability factors already well in play in the industry, more examples and success stories of large-scale energy solution implementations can be expected as leaders expand their understanding of the role of energy in the mine of the future. At the same time, the absence of one-size-fits-all solutions increases the burden of exploration and assessment on mining leaders, leading them to have to test all possible technology combinations. Understanding these interrelationships can be difficult, time-consuming, and costly, especially when each mine has a unique context. It is imperative that technology and mining companies find the right balance of flexibility to create a tailored solution for the specific context of an operation.”

The report points out that because mines sometimes take decades to recoup their initial investments, mining companies face the challenge of balancing net benefit from the short to long term, sometimes affecting the implementation of capital-intensive technologies intended to reduce large operational expenditures. These innovations can also drive increasingly important but less easily quantifiable benefits, such as energy predictability, regulatory compliance, and social acceptability. But it adds: “while capital intensity accounts for the lion’s share in determining the economic feasibility of a development project, companies are finding ways to address this challenge.”

An example given is Montreal-based TUGLIQ – a specialised independent power producer delivering diesel-alternative solutions using local and proximity resources – which uses flexible contract options, project risk sharing and predictable energy costs for the mines over the duration of the asset. Also cited is Hydrostor, a developer of utility-scale energy storage facilities using its proprietary Advanced Compressed Air Energy Storage (A-CAES) technology. A-CAES technology can be deployed to repurpose de-commissioned underground mines for the provision of long-duration energy storage which, paired with low-cost green power, provides a baseload of dispatchable renewable product directly to the mine. To address this challenge, Hydrostor offers fully financed solutions that Hydrostor owns and contracts out or can deliver as a turnkey asset to help mining companies adapt the risk profile of their mine operations and take advantage of high-value applications behind the meter.

Another issue the report highlights is that identifying and then implementing technologies that allow for the integration of older models and new upgrades can be exceedingly tricky. “The good news is that more and more technology companies are addressing the issue with key design challenges and features in mind.” The report homes in on MacLean Engineering, the mining vehicle
manufacturer of specialty underground mining vehicles – including battery electric vehicles. “They have designed their vehicle line to charge directly from the existing electrical infrastructure at mines – no charge stations required – while remaining adaptable to further innovation. This onboard charging feature in particular is one of the ways MacLean ensures its technologies can be deployed today in a wide variety of existing and new mines.”

Also given as an example is U-Battery, a consortium of companies that is developing a Small Modular Reactor (SMR), “which ensures the design of their SMR complements and enhances the varying energy generation types typically found in different mining contexts. Its design incorporates inherent safety features eliminating the need for complex, and expensive cooling and safety systems. Its fuel-replacement cycle of five years allows for low maintenance, and it’s capable of load-following to swiftly adapt to a wide range of mining electricity and heat demands. U-Battery also considers their product as complementary to other energy generation means, thereby creating a reliable, and dispatchable energy source that enables the use of intermittent renewable sources and/or displacing all or a portion of diesel combustion.”

The report goes on: “Numerous use cases exist for handling challenges faced in the drive to adopt new energy solutions. With mining companies continuing to realise that both financial and non-financial benefits come from a wide range of energy solutions, advances in technologies and approaches will only continue to accelerate. In some cases, adopters of emerging energy solutions
will enjoy benefits well beyond the life of the mine, such as social licence and revenue generation. This rapidly evolving context, however, means mining leaders need more than ever to be strategic in their adoption planning to be competitive in the longer run.”

In short, the authors argue that it means they need to consider:

• Reviewing and expressing a holistic energy strategy on multiple time horizons, by assessing existing energy capacity and technology starts through the right questions
• Developing ways to enhance decision-making processes by considering all the benefits of energy solutions throughout during and beyond the life of the mine, including where new technology
fits into existing infrastructure and factoring in the impact on and value to the community
• Considering all stakeholders involved in energy solutions and participating in the mining innovation network including the potential for other industry players to engage in a constructive discussion on how to tackle specific challenges and adopt certain technologies in an integrated fashion