Tag Archives: carbon-neutral mining

The smart miners putting people first

We’ve all heard about the sustained pressures mining companies are facing from stakeholders when it comes to changing the way they do business, with the use of new technology often touted as the way to transform the sector for the good of the industry and society.

Yet, as the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced, these technologies can only work with the right suite of people to design, install, operate and maintain them.

The onset of machine learning and artificial intelligence in the mining space is expected to remove manual tasks in the exploration, development, production and maintenance processes of miners, but the real benefits come with freeing up skilled personnel to concentrate on more ‘transformative’ processes.

The same could be said for the automation of equipment and processes at mine sites, with contractors and mine owners able to use skilled workers across multiple operating stations above ground or at remote operations centres instead of being bogged down on one piece of kit on the mine site.

Keeping humans at the “centre” of this technology evolution is one of the underlying themes of the 2021 edition of the Smart Mining Conference (SMC2021), hosted by the Institute for Advanced Mining Technologies of RWTH Aachen University (AMT) and VDMA Mining, according to Aarti Sörensen, Scientific Research Assistant at AMT.

“Technology is an enabler, but you need to know what you actually want to achieve with any of these projects to be a success,” Sörensen told IM.

Aarti Sörensen, Scientific Research Assistant at AMT

A focus on this human centre transcends just the people on the mine site, or the neighbouring communities; it includes the wider society that interact, judge and rely on the outputs of mining.

Elisabeth Clausen, Professor & Director of AMT, told IM: “One aspect that is really important for the mining industry is how to deal with the public perception of the industry. All miners are lacking the talent they need to continue to grow. We have seen this come through in the numbers of university students we are educating. While every student currently looks like getting a job upon graduation, there are not enough people coming through the system with the skills required and the appetite to work in the mining sector. That is not only in disciplines like mine engineering, but also machine learning, automation, big data analytics, etc. Mining is not currently viewed as an attractive workplace when compared with the likes of Google and Amazon.”

The introduction of more ‘carbon neutral’ operations, improved safety procedures and flexible work practices will go some way to changing the perception and, to make the required leaps, collaboration will prove key.

This is a topic Sörensen and Clausen know well given the number of industry research projects the AMT is currently working on.

NEXGEN SIMS, the next generation of the EU-backed SIMS project, is a great example here.

Involving Epiroc, Ericsson, Boliden, Agnico Eagle Finland, KGHM Polska, K+S, OZ Minerals, Mobilaris MCE, AFRY, KGHM Cuprum, LTU Business, Luleå University of Technology and AMT, NEXGEN SIMS (the Next-Generation Carbon-Neutral Pilots for Smart Intelligent Mining Systems) aims to develop autonomous, carbon-neutral mining processes.

While more innovation networks are gaining traction across the globe – in Canada, the Canada Mining Innovation Council or the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation, and Expande, in Chile, provide examples here – Clausen said there is still some reluctance in the mining community to commit to large-scale collaboration and collaborative innovation.

“Companies see the need but have some hesitation where it involves large-scale collaboration,” she said. The dilemmas of data sharing, IP rights and the need to provide individual companies with a list of competitive advantage benefits remain.

Elisabeth Clausen, Professor & Director of AMT

“It all hinges on openness and trust,” Clausen said. “Openness can only be generated by trust.”

Sörensen said the ‘sweetspot’ for miner collaboration often comes from the mid-tier sector – those companies big enough and agile enough to commit funds and resources to projects, but not so big that they can develop their own technology in-house.

“They often open up their mine sites for demonstrations and are more open to collaboration,” she said.

“The collaboration dynamic between suppliers and miners is also changing, with miners now driving the technology development and putting their requirements to suppliers, instead of the other way round. Some miners have also built key relationships with research institutions and start-ups to come up with solutions to their problems, building collaboration or innovation ecosystems around their companies.”

Collaborations such as NEXGEN SIMS are seeing all parts of the mining ecosystem converge to help decarbonise the sector, as well as change the perception of how mines are operated. The use of 5G communication networks, battery-electric and automated machinery could see operators track equipment from a city centre in real time, without the need to even step on site.

What is clear is that more collaborations like this will be needed to decarbonise the industry, make it more appealing to younger people considering their career options, and change the ‘dirty’ and ‘dangerous’ connotations that are often associated with the word ‘mining’.

This represents a challenge as well as an opportunity, but, like all technology developments/transformations, it requires the ‘buy-in’ of people to be a success.

Clausen concluded: “We are convinced that the benefits of all the technologies and innovations can only be fully leveraged if we have the right people in place. Putting people at the centre of all activities is of utmost importance to change and challenge the perception of mining.”

SMC2021 will bring business leaders, policy makers and researchers together to discuss what ‘smart mining’ means against such a backdrop.

Anglo American sets carbon-neutral shipping goal

Anglo American has set an ambition to achieve carbon neutrality across its controlled ocean freight activities by 2040, with an interim 30% reduction in emissions by 2030.

This ambition is aligned with the goals of Anglo American’s Sustainable Mining Plan, which include achieving carbon-neutral mining operations by 2040 and an ambition to reduce Scope 3 emissions by 50% by 2040.

Peter Whitcutt, CEO of Anglo American’s Marketing business, said: “Connecting our customers with the metals and minerals they need in a way that is safe, efficient and sustainable is a key priority for us, so our ambition for carbon neutral controlled ocean freight is a natural extension of our commitment to be carbon neutral across our mining operations by 2040.

“Since establishing our shipping desk in 2012, we have built a diverse portfolio and today we transport more than 70 Mt of dry bulk products per year to our customers around the world. We are committed to playing an active role in accelerating the transition to a more sustainable shipping sector, a crucial component in our efforts to extend our positive impact beyond our mine sites. This ambition further cements that commitment and will help us shape a clearer path towards decarbonisation.”

Anglo American has adopted high standards in vessel efficiency across its chartered fleet and is exploring a comprehensive framework of complementary sustainability measures, an approach that will be backed by regular and validated emissions performance reporting, the company said. Vessel retrofits, the use of voyage optimisation software, and support for technology development to help enable the switch from conventional fuel oil to sustainable marine fuels are all part of its efforts to decarbonise ocean freight activities.

In 2020, Anglo American announced the introduction of LNG-fuelled Capesize+ vessels to its chartered fleet, taking advantage of LNG’s ability to incrementally decarbonise shipping. Anticipated environmental benefits include a circa-35% reduction in carbon emissions compared with standard marine fuel, while also using new technology to eliminate the release of unburnt methane, or so-called “methane slip”.

Anglo American is also participating in industry efforts to accelerate the development of alternative low-carbon and zero-carbon fuels.

“We conducted a successful trial using sustainable biofuel, converted from waste cooking oil and used to power a chartered Capesize ship, with the aim to operationalise biofuel into our marine fuel mix,” it said. “We are also part of an industry consortium looking into the viability of green ammonia.”

Recognising the potential of hydrogen in enabling a carbon-neutral pathway for ocean freight, Anglo American recently joined forces with Hydrogenious Maritime AS, a joint venture between Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies, a portfolio company of AP Ventures, and Johannes Østensjø dy AS. The two companies will collaborate to explore the use of emission-free liquid organic hydrogen carrier-based applications on Anglo American’s chartered fleet. Anglo American is also exploring opportunities to align its efforts on the development of zero-carbon fuel for maritime operations to larger hydrogen supply chains in South Africa and Chile.

Anglo American recently joined more than 200 industry players as a signatory of the Call to Action for Shipping Decarbonisation, calling for decisive government action to enable full decarbonisation of international shipping by 2050.

A partner of the Global Maritime Forum, Anglo American was also a founding signatory and an architect of the Sea Cargo Charter – created by some of the world’s largest energy, agriculture, mining and commodity trading companies. The aim of this group is to establish a standard methodology and reporting framework to allow charterers to measure and align their emissions from ocean transportation activities. Anglo American is also a signatory of the Getting to Zero Coalition, an alliance committed to getting commercially viable deep sea zero emission vessels powered by zero emission fuels into operation by 2030.

New Kalgoorlie metals research lab to pave the way for mining’s greener future

Curtin University is to open a new research lab geared towards carbon-neutral metal production paths at its Kalgoorlie campus in Western Australia.

Curtin’s WA School of Mines: Minerals, Energy and Chemical Engineering Head of School, Professor Michael Hitch, said the Kalgoorlie Metals Research Laboratory would explore cleaner alternatives through teaching and research that would pave the way for a greener future for the industry.

“The Kalgoorlie Metals Research Laboratory will provide undergraduate students with practical education in carbon-neutral metal production paths, which is particularly important given they are the generation that will help decarbonise the mining industry in the most challenging area of pyrometallurgy,” Professor Hitch said.

Iron ore processing expert, Dr John Clout, has been appointed the Professor of Practice in Pyrometallurgy at the lab with Curtin’s WA School of Mines Kalgoorlie Director, Sabina Shugg, saying he would oversee a high-tech laboratory, fitted with experimental high temperature furnace equipment, capable of simulating the complete industrial process to test renewable energy and green hydrogen sources in the metal extraction process of pyrometallurgy, which currently require fossil fuels.

“Highly respected in the field of pyrometallurgy, Professor Clout will bring real-world experience to the laboratory’s teaching and research, ensuring we contribute to a sustainable future for the Western Australia resources industry,” Shugg said.

Professor Clout said he was thrilled to support the new research hub’s development as an internationally-recognised laboratory and pilot-scale pyrometallurgical research facility for undergraduate teaching and applied research.

“The Kalgoorlie Metals Research Laboratory will aim to develop end-to-end production paths that set new standards for efficiency, value and carbon neutral management, which will ultimately support a cleaner future,” he said.

“After working in the gold, iron ore and nickel industries for more than four decades, I am especially excited to be working with the future leaders of the resources sector to find the most efficient renewable energy sources and processes for pyrometallurgy.

“There is significant potential for industry to be extracting and producing critical metals right here in Western Australia, especially in the Goldfields where there is significant scope for renewal energy production, untapped critical mineral resources, an existing infrastructure network and workforce.”

The Kalgoorlie Metals Research Laboratory has been established as the result of a A$600,000 ($443,697) grant from Curtin University.

The new research facility is also seeking support from industry and private donors for the purchase of additional equipment and ongoing industry-funded projects.

TNG and SMS to investigate hydrogen use for Mount Peake project

TNG Ltd is participating in a ground-breaking project with its German-based strategic engineering partner, SMS group, which could lead to the production of a carbon-neutral product from its Mount Peake vanadium-titanium-iron project in the Northern Territory of Australia.

Under the agreement, TNG will partner with SMS to develop technology to produce green hydrogen from various renewable, secondary or fossil hydrocarbon sources by means of plasma pyrolysis.

SMS, TNG says, is already advanced in its understanding of such technology and will manage all development activities and, specifically, apply the technology to TNG’s TIVAN® Process (plant layout above).

The TIVAN process, developed by the two companies and Perth, Australia-based metallurgical consultants METS and the CSIRO, has been primarily designed for hydro-metallurgical extraction of vanadium, preferably as vanadium pentoxide, from a titanomagnetite orebody and also for separating the titanium and iron, preferably as ferric oxide and titanium dioxide.

SMS is to provide a fully detailed development program in support of the specific resourcing required from both parties under the agreement, TNG says.

The plasma pyrolysis technology, which consumes roughly one-third of the electricity required to produce the same amount of hydrogen by electrolysis of water, could be the preferred reduction agent for TNG’s TIVAN Process, marking an important step in the company’s roadmap towards achieving a net zero carbon footprint for TIVAN, TNG said.

“The technology also has the potential to be applied for the production of hydrogen and syngas from various fossil, biogenic and waste materials, opening up additional potential business opportunities for TNG and SMS in the fast-growing space of the hydrogen and e-fuels economy, and outside the company’s proposed core titanium-vanadium-iron business,” it added.

A by-product of this process is anticipated to be highly-pure carbon black powder, which currently sells at approximately $1,000/t. Possibilities to produce graphene and/or carbon nanotubes from this powder will also be investigated in parallel by SMS.

Mount Peake is currently expected to process ore through a 2 Mt/y plant to produce 700,000 t/y of magnetite concentrate, which could then be turned into 100,000 t/y of titanium dioxide, 6,000 t/y of vanadium pentoxide and 500,000 t/y of iron oxide fines.

The agreement is not expected to impact the front-end engineering and design (FEED) study completion and delivery of the turnkey engineering, procurement and construction proposal from SMS.

TNG said: “The company’s primary focus remains on progression and completion of the remaining engineering and design work streams for the Mount Peake project, including the current FEED study. The hydrogen technology development program will be progressed in parallel, and, subject to confirmation of technical and commercial feasibility and integration with project development planning, has potential application for further optimisation of the Mount Peake project.”

TNG’s Managing Director & CEO, Paul Burton, said: “There is a huge amount of momentum globally moving towards a hydrogen-based economy, and this is an exciting opportunity for TNG while at the same time has the potential to move our TIVAN Process towards carbon-neutral which is important as we continue on our pathway to secure TNG’s position as a sustainable metals producer.

“We believe that being able to use a carbon-neutral product in our patented TIVAN process will be a further significant advantage to TNG in relation to other competing technologies used for the extraction of high-quality titanium, vanadium and iron products from titanomagnetite ores, sands and slags.”

SMS’ Senior Vice President of Strategic Project Development, Herbert Weissenbaeck, said: “From SMS’ perspective, the future of the metallurgical industry will rely on low-cost renewable electrical energy, as well as carbon-neutral means of energy transport and storage. Hydrogen, being a very efficient and carbon-free reduction agent, is thus obviously in the focus of many of our ongoing R&D efforts.

“Co-developing our plasma pyrolysis technology with TNG, which could reap immediate benefits in the form of effectively decarbonising TIVAN, is an exciting next step towards green, H2-based metallurgy, and we are looking forward to jointly turning it into industrial reality at TNG’s Darwin processing plant, soon.”

Anglo American enlists First Mode to help with carbon-neutral mining goals

Anglo American has signed a multi-year agreement with design, engineering, and system development firm First Mode that could see the Seattle-based company develop new systems and technology for the diversified miner.

First Mode, well known for its work adapting the tools and technologies developed for the robotic exploration of the solar system, will be supporting projects across Anglo American’s FutureSmart Mining™ program as part of the $13.5 million contract, it said. FutureSmart Mining is an innovation-led approach to address mining’s major sustainability challenges.

This work will include technology trade-off studies, engineering design, prototypical developments, technology demonstrations, delivery of integrated systems, and deployment to sites around the world, First Mode said.

This collaboration builds on successful projects across Anglo American’s portfolio during 2019, where First Mode is supporting Anglo American on the systems engineering, integration, and test program for its hydrogen-powered mine haul truck with ‘first motion’ planned in 2020, it said.

Tony O’Neill, Technical Director of Anglo American, said the miner looked forward to developing and implementing innovative technologies over the coming years in tandem with First Mode.

“This work supports our trajectory towards our carbon and energy targets for 2030 and, ultimately, our vision of carbon-neutral mining,” he said.

Chris Voorhees, President and Chief Engineer of First Mode, said: “Mining produces the resources needed for a cleaner, more sustainable planet. Development of the world’s largest hydrogen-powered mine truck is an important step in making the natural resources sector carbon-neutral from start-to-finish.”

Rhae Adams, VP of Business Development at First Mode, meanwhile, said Anglo was the “perfect partner” to help fulfil the company’s vision of a future based on renewable energy.

Back in October, First Mode confirmed it had been selected by NASA to develop a pioneering lunar mission concept with Arizona State University (ASU), to be funded through NASA’s Planetary Mission Concept Study program. The mission, called Intrepid, would develop and deploy the Intrepid rover to traverse the furthest distance of any rover in NASA’s history, examining the geology of the lunar surface over an area of some 1,800 km.