Tag Archives: Electrification

Interact Analysis forecasts slow haul truck electrification uptake in open-pit mining

The electric revolution looks to be well and truly underway in the mining space, with underground mines of all sizes planning, trialling, or ordering various battery-electric machines to help them decarbonise their operations. Yet, the latest report on the off-highway vehicle market from Interact Analysis has indicated the transition above ground will take a little longer than many anticipated.

Homing in specifically on the 85-t-plus global hauler/dump truck market – broadly applicable to the medium-large construction space and the small-large open-pit mining sector – the market research firm laid out estimates for the annual number of new truck deliveries to 2029.

The surprising aspect of this research was the continued dominance of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle deliveries over this time frame.

The team at Interact Analysis expected the adoption rate/market share to go from 100% in 2020 – when 1,330 new vehicles were delivered – to 96.2% in 2029 – when it expected 1,716 units to be delivered.

The growth is slightly extreme in this comparison, but is partially accounted for by a drop off in deliveries in 2020 due to the effects of COVID-19. For reference, in 2019, 2,065 units were delivered.

Included within the ICE stats are biofuel vehicles, which have been gaining prominence in the mining space as miners realise they can both reduce diesel costs and emissions by incorporating biofuels into their operating mix.

Over the same time frame – 2020-2029 – the analysts see “hybrid” trucks commanding zero percent market share, with no sales.

Fully-electric trucks fare better, moving from zero deliveries in 2020 to two in 2021, five in 2022, six in 2023; to 72 in 2028 and 67 in 2029. The fully-electric adoption rate moves from 0% in 2020 to 3.8% in 2029.

Among these new fully-electric dump trucks is an XCMG EDF531 90 t battery-electric truck that was on show at the Bauma China show late last year (pictured below).

Jan Zhang, Senior Research Director at Interact Analysis, based in China, said this dump truck has already been delivered to a customer.

“In fact, quite a few dump fully-electric trucks below 100 t have already been used in China (in Guangdong),” she told IM. “Many of these have payloads of below 60 t, but a few are 90 t, and are in trial runs, and a few have also been exported to New Zealand, using the LiFePO4 battery from CATL.”

There has been much talk about hydrogen haul trucks taking hold in the mining space. This has been catalysed by Anglo American’s plans to test a 291 t fuel cell electric vehicle, a conversion to hydrogen fuel cell and lithium battery operation of a diesel-powered Komatsu 930E, at the Mogalakwena platinum mine in South Africa. If successful, these tests could lead to a rollout of 40 FCEVs across the global miner’s operations, it says.

Despite this, Interact Analysis’ research has no plus-85 t payload hydrogen trucks included in its forecasts to 2029.

Alastair Hayfield, Senior Research Director at Interact Analysis, based in the UK, explains: “Our statistics only look at new builds and not retrofits. My understanding is that the Anglo American vehicles would be retrofit (although there is limited detail at this point).

“Should some be new build, then we would update our forecast accordingly once we have better visibility.”

It’s worth asking the question: what about hydrogen trucks in mining beyond 2029?

Zhang said: “At present, mining trucks are mainly used in medium and large-scale coal and metal mines, and the use scenario is mainly for downhill heavy payload applications. That is to say where mineral resources are situated in a high up location, and it is necessary to load them from the mountain to the conveyor belt or transfer vehicle (the short distance transportation path is generally 2-3 km).”

She said mining truck electrification is mainly driven by two factors, with the first being operational cost advantages.

Jan Zhang, Senior Research Director at Interact Analysis, based in China

“For example, a mine truck with a total weight of 90 t will cost $45,000-75,000 in standard fuel annually, whilst the cost of electricity is only a third of the cost of fuel under the same circumstances, which means that $30,000-45,000 can be saved in the annual cost, not to mention other costs which are also higher for ICE mine trucks such as repair and maintenance,” she said.

The second factor is environmental protection and policy promotion.

“In China, the ‘National Green Mine Construction Specification’, issued by the Ministry of Natural Resources, has been implemented since October 2018,” Zhang explained. “This measure will surely help to grow the market share of hydrogen trucks in China, although the overall percentage will remain small.”

The last category included in Interact Analysis’ research was “Others” in the global hauler/dump truck market for 85-t-plus vehicles.

No deliveries for this category were registered in 2020, but the company anticipates one delivery in 2021, followed by three in 2022 and five in 2023. This gets as high as eight deliveries in 2025, but, by the end of the forecast period (2029), this category still commands 0.0% of the total.

So, what trucks fit into this category?

Hayfield explained: “We’re talking about diesel-electrics that will enter service into a trolley line operation – we essentially have to make an estimate on how we think the vehicle will predominantly be used. This is analogous to what we do in our on-highway research where we have to make estimates on how class 8 trucks are used for different applications ie long haul, distribution, vocational applications.”

This is not to say there will be no trolley assist trucks coming into the mining space, but, as far as Interact Analysis is concerned, these will not be new trucks coming out of the factory destined to head onto trolley lines. They will more likely be AC drive trucks that are retrofitted later for trolley assist operation.

When consolidated, these numbers show an underlying trend.

Back in 2019, there were 2,065 truck units delivered to the market in this 85-t-plus category, but, even out to 2029, this level is not reached, according to Interact Analysis.

Alastair Hayfield, Senior Research Director at Interact Analysis, based in the UK

In 2020, total deliveries dropped to 1,330 and, in 2021, Interact Analysis sees this rising to 1,545 units. A continual rise is expected in the years following, but it only reaches 1,783 in 2029.

What about beyond this timeframe?

Hayfield answered: “You have two fundamental pressures: a growing, resource-intensive population and a need to re-use/cut consumption because of environmental and/or legislative pressure. I suspect we will continue to see the growth of new mines throughout the 2030s in developing regions, fuelling demand for new trucks. However, I suspect we will see increasing pressure in Europe and North America on sustainability and the need to re-use materials and, hence, a slowing in the opening of new mines.”

This means demand for new trucks could start to drop during the 2030s in Europe and North America, he deduced.

This is not an exhaustive look at trends in the open-pit mining dump truck market – it is more of a taster – but Interact Analysis plans a detailed, mining specific study later in 2021. Such analysis could include forecasts for the retrofit market, providing the complete picture mining industry onlookers are after.

Epiroc continues to build equipment order book in Q4

Epiroc continued to register strong demand for its equipment in the December quarter, with the mining OEM’s order intake increasing both in the underground and surface mining segments, the company reported today.

Headline numbers from the December quarter included a 1% year-on-year increase in orders received to SEK9.3 billion ($1.1 billion), a 5% drop in revenues to SEK9.8 billion, a 10% increase in operating profit to SEK2.2 billion and a higher operating margin of 22.6%, compared with 19.6% a year earlier.

In terms of its equipment, Epiroc said orders received increased 26% organically to SEK2.97 billion in the last quarter of 2020.

Speaking to IM shortly after the results were released, Helena Hedblom, Epiroc CEO, explained: “The equipment orders…were across our portfolio, and the good thing is there were not that many large orders in the quarter; it was many small- and medium-sized orders.”

This would imply the strength in equipment demand – which came from both the underground mining and open-pit mining segment – is broad across the industry, coming not just from the major miners.

This pattern was also seen in the September quarter of 2020 when the company recorded a 25% year-on-year organic increase in equipment orders in the period, with the majority of orders coming from small- to medium-sized contracts of, say, one or two pieces of equipment, Hedblom said at the time of the results release.

Looking at the wider equipment and service segment of the business – which provides rock drilling equipment, equipment for mechanical rock excavation, rock reinforcement, loading and haulage, ventilation systems, drilling equipment for exploration, water, oil and gas, as well as related spare parts and service for the mining and infrastructure industries – Epiroc said the share of orders from equipment in this segment was 43% in the December quarter. Service, meanwhile, represented 57% of the orders.

Epiroc said it expected demand, both for equipment and aftermarket, to remain stable in the near term, while cautioning: “Uncertainty, however, still remains regarding the COVID-19 development and any further related restrictions.”

In the results release, Hedblom said automation, digitalisation and electrification solutions were in high demand over the quarter, with the company connecting more and more machines over this time frame.

“We continue to win orders and we are proud of our market-leading solutions that are globally deployed and proven,” she said. “They enable increased productivity, safety and sustainability for our customers.”

When questioned about the planned acquisition of MineRP, announced late in the quarter, Hedblom said the combination of the MineRP platform with its own digital solutions would allow Epiroc to “become a better productivity partner” in a mine’s digital journey.

IM also got Hedblom’s thoughts on if there was a regional difference in the speed of uptake of ‘new technology’ in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. She said: “I see this technology shift coming in a different light with the pandemic. Sustainability is coming in; digital tools are becoming more and more natural as we need them.

“There is maybe an acceptance that the technology is here to stay, is available and customers want to jump on this journey now. I see it across all regions, which is a bit different to how the mining industry has adopted new technologies in the past.

“We have good traction everywhere now when it comes to new technologies.”

And, on the subject of ‘new technology’ uptake, IM asked Hedblom if she saw any parallels between the evolution of automated equipment adoption in the mining sector – which started with solely new autonomous equipment purchases to improve operations and moved towards a combination of retrofits and new equipment as the technology gained traction – and how companies may look to leverage mine electrification underground.

She answered: “I think it is too early to say yet. If I look into the coming 5-10 years, conversion of existing fleet will be one way to speed up the electrification journey. That is also why we are investing and developing these types of products to allow us to offer retrofits as part of the mid-life rebuild process, for example.”

The company confirmed back in November that its battery-electric retrofit solution for diesel-powered machines is expected to launch in the March quarter of 2021.

North sets Ferrexpo on a course for ‘carbon neutrality’

Ferrexpo is used to setting trends. It was the first company to launch a new open-pit iron ore mine in the CIS since Ukraine gained its independence in 1991 and has recently become the first miner in Ukraine to adopt autonomous open-pit drilling and haulage technology.

It plans to keep up this innovative streak if a conversation with Acting CEO Jim North is anything to go by.

North, former Chief Operating Officer of London Mining and Ferrexpo, has seen the technology shift in mining first-hand. A holder of a variety of senior operational management roles in multiple commodities with Rio Tinto and BHP, he witnessed the take-off of autonomous haulage systems (AHS) in the Pilbara, as well as the productivity and operating cost benefits that came with removing operators from blasthole drills.

He says the rationale for adopting autonomous technology at Ferrexpo’s Yeristovo mine is slightly different to the traditional Pilbara investment case.

“This move was not based on reduction in salaries; it was all based on utilisation of capital,” North told IM. While miners receive comparatively good salaries in Ukraine, they cannot compete with the wages of those Pilbara haul truck drivers.

Ferrexpo Acting CEO, Jim North

North provided a bit of background here: “The focus for the last six years since I came into the company was about driving mining efficiencies and getting benchmark performance out of our mining fleet. This is not rocket science; it is all about carrying out good planning and executing to that plan.”

The company used the same philosophy in its process plant – a philosophy that is likely to see it produce close to 12 Mt of high grade (65% Fe) iron ore pellets and concentrate next year.

Using his industry knowledge, North pitted Ferrexpo’s fleet performance against others on the global stage.

“Mining is a highly capital-intensive business and that equipment you buy has got be moving – either loaded or empty – throughout the day,” North said. “24 hours-a-day operation is impossible as you must put fuel in vehicles and you need to change operators, so, in the beginning, we focused on increasing the utilised hours. After a couple of years, I noticed we were getting very close to the benchmark performance globally set by the majors.

“If you are looking at pushing your utilisation further, it inevitably leads you to automation.”

Ferrexpo was up for pushing it further and, four years ago, started the process of going autonomous, with its Yeristovo iron ore mine, opened in 2011, the first candidate for an operational shakeup.

“Yeristovo is a far simpler configuration from a mining point of view,” North explained. “It is basically just a large box cut. Poltava, on the other hand (its other iron ore producing mine currently), has been around for 50 years; it is a very deep and complex operation.

“We thought the place to dip our toe into the water and get good at autonomy was Yeristovo.”

This started off in 2017 with deployment of teleremote operation on its Epiroc Pit Viper 275 blasthole drill rigs. The company has gradually increased the level of autonomy, progressing to remotely operating these rigs from a central control room. In 2021-2022, these rigs will move to fully-autonomous mode, North says.

Ferrexpo has also been leveraging remotely-operated technology for mine site surveying, employing drones to speed up and improve the accuracy of the process. The miner has invested in three of these drones to carry out not only site surveys, but stockpile mapping and – perhaps next year – engineering inspections.

“The productivity benefits from these drones are huge,” North said. “In just two days of drone operation, you can carry out the same amount of work it would take three or four surveyors to do in one or two weeks!”

OEM-agnostic solution

It is the haul truck segment of the mine automation project at Yeristovo that has caught the most industry attention, with Ferrexpo one of the first to choose an OEM-agnostic solution from a company outside of the big four open-pit mining haul truck manufacturers.

The company settled on a solution from ASI Mining, owned 34% by Epiroc, after the completion of a trial of the Mobius® Haulage A.I. system on a Cat 793D last year.

The first phase of the commercial project is already kicking off, with the first of six Cat 793s converted to autonomous mode now up and running at Yeristovo. On completion of this first phase of six trucks, consideration will be given to timing of further deployment for the remainder of the Yeristovo truck fleet.

This trial and rollout may appear fairly routine, but behind the scenes was an 18-month process to settle on ASI’s solution.

“For us, as a business, we have about 86 trucks deployed on site,” North said. “We simply couldn’t take the same route BHP or Rio took three or four years ago in acquiring an entirely new autonomous fleet. At that point, Cat and Komatsu were the only major OEMs offering these solutions and they were offering limited numbers of trucks models with no fleet integration possibilities.

“If you had a mixed fleet – which we do – then you were looking at a multi-hundred-million-dollar decision to change out your mining fleet. That is prohibitive for a business like ours.”

Ferrexpo personnel visited ASI Mining’s facility in Utah, USA, several times, hearing all about the parent company’s work with NASA on robotics. “We knew they had the technical capability to work in tough environments,” North remarked.

“We also saw work they had been doing with Ford and Toyota for a number of years on their unmanned vehicles, and we witnessed the object detect and collision avoidance solutions in action on a test track.”

Convinced by these demonstrations and with an eye to the future of its operations, Ferrexpo committed to an OEM-agnostic autonomous future.

“If we want to get to a fully autonomous fleet at some stage in the future, we will need to pick a provider that could turn any unit into an autonomous vehicle,” North said. It found that in ASI Mining’s Mobius platform.

Such due diligence is representative not only of the team’s thorough approach to this project, it also reflects the realities of deploying such a solution in Ukraine.

“It is all about building capability,” North said. “This is new technology in Ukraine – it’s not like you can go down the road and find somebody that has worked on this type of technology before. As a result, it’s all about training and building up the capacity in our workforce.”

After this expertise has been established, the automation rollout will inevitably accelerate.

“Once we have Yeristovo fully autonomous, we intend to move the autonomy program to Belanovo, which we started excavating a couple of years ago,” North said. “The last pit we would automate would be Poltava, purely due to complexity.”

Belanovo, which has a JORC Mineral Resource of 1,700 Mt, is currently mining overburden with 30-40 t ADTs shifting this material. While ASI Mining said it would be able to automate such machines, North decided the automation program will only begin when large fleet is deployed.

“When we deploy large fleet at Belanovo and start to move significant volumes, we intend for it to become a fully-autonomous operation,” he said.

Poltava, which is a single pit covering a 7 km long by 2 km wide area (pictured below), has a five-decade-long history and a more diverse mining fleet than Yeristovo. In this respect, it was always going to be harder to automate from a loading and haulage point of view.

“If you think about the fleet numbers deployed when Belanovo is running, we will probably have 50% of our fleet running autonomously,” North said. “The level of capability to run that level of technology would be high, so it makes sense to take on the more complex operation at Poltava at that point in time.”

Consolidation and decarbonisation

This autonomy transition has also given North and his team the chance to re-evaluate its fleet needs for now and in the future.

This is not as simple as it may sound to those thinking of a typical Pilbara AHS fleet deployment, with the Yeristovo and Poltava mines containing different ore types that require blending at the processing plant in order to sustain a cost-effective operation able to produce circa-12 Mt/y of high-grade (65%-plus Fe) iron ore pellets and concentrate.

“That limits our ability in terms of fleet size for ore mining because we want to match the capacity of the fleet to the different ore streams we feed into the plant,” North said.

This has seen the company standardise on circa-220 t trucks for ore movement and 300-320 t trucks for waste haulage.

On the latter, North explained: “That is about shovel utilisation, not necessarily about trucks. If you go much larger than that 320-t truck, you are talking about the need to use large rope shovels and we don’t have enough consistent stripping requirements for that. We think the 800 t-class electric hydraulic excavator is a suitable match for the circa-320 t truck.”

This standardisation process at Poltava has seen BELAZ 40 t trucks previously working in the pit re-assigned for auxiliary work, with the smallest in-pit Cat 777 trucks acting as fuel, water and lubrication service vehicles at Poltava.

“The Cat 785s are the smallest operating primary fleet we have at Poltava,” North said. “We also have the Hitachi EH3500s and Cat 789s and Cat 793s, tending to keep the bigger fleet towards Yeristovo and the smaller fleet at Poltava.”

In carrying out this evaluation, the company has also plotted its next electrification steps.

“Given we have got to the point where we know we want 220 t for ore and 300-320 t nominally for waste at Yeristovo, we have a very clear understanding of where we are going in our efforts to support our climate action,” North said.

Electrification of the company’s entire operation – both the power generation and pelletising segment, and the mobile fleet – forms a significant part of its carbon reduction plans.

A 5 MW solar farm is being built to trial the efficacy of photovoltaic generation in the region, while, in the pelletiser, the company is blending sunflower husks with natural gas to power the process. Fine tuning over the past few years has seen the company settle on a 30:70 sunflower husk:natural gas energy ratio, allowing the company to make the most of a waste product in plentiful supply in Ukraine.

On top of this, the company is recuperating heat from the pelletisation process where possible and reusing it for other processes.

With a significant amount of ‘blue’ (nuclear) or ‘green’ (renewable) power available through the grid and plans to incorporate renewables on site, Ferrexpo looks to have the input part of the decarbonisation equation covered.

In the pellet lines, North says green hydrogen is believed to be the partial or full displacement solution for gas firing, with the company keenly watching developments such as the HYBRIT project in Sweden.

On the diesel side of things, Ferrexpo is also charting its decarbonisation course. This will start with a move to electric drive haul trucks in the next few years.

Power infrastructure is already available in the pits energising most of its electric-hydraulic shovels and backhoes, and the intention is for these new electric drive trucks to go on trolley line infrastructure to eradicate some of the operation’s diesel use.

“Initially we would still need to rely on diesel engines at the end of ramps and the bottom of pits, but our intention is to utilise some alternative powerpack on these trucks as the technology becomes available,” North said.

He expects that alternative powerpack to be battery-based, but he and the company are keeping their options open during conversations with OEMs about the fleet replacement plans.

“We know we are going to have to buy a fleet in the next couple of years, but the problem is when you make that sort of purchase, you are committing to using those machines for the next 20 years,” North said. “During all our conversations with OEMs we are recognising that we will need to buy a fleet before they have probably finalised their ‘decarbonised’ solutions, so all the contracts are based on the OEM providing that fully carbon-free solution when it becomes available.”

With around 15% of the company’s carbon footprint tied to diesel use, this could have a big impact on Ferrexpo’s ‘green’ credentials, yet the transition to trolley assist makes sense even without this sustainability benefit.

“The advantages in terms of mining productivity are huge,” North said. “You go from 15 km/h on ramp to just under 30 km/h on ramp.”

This is not all North offered up on the company’s carbon reduction plans.

At both of Ferrexpo’s operations, the company moves a lot of ore internally with shuttle trains, some of which are powered by diesel engines. A more environmentally friendly alternative is being sought for these locomotives.

“We are working with rail consultants that are delivering solutions for others to ‘fast follow’ that sector,” North said referencing the project already underway with Vale at its operations in Brazil. “We are investigating at the moment how we could design and deploy the solution at our operations for a lithium-ion battery loco.”

Not all the company’s decarbonisation and energy-efficiency initiatives started as recently as the last few years.

When examining a plan to reach 12 Mt/y of iron ore pellet production, North and his team looked at the whole ‘mine to mill’ approach.

“The cheapest place to optimise your comminution of rock is within the mine itself,” North said. “If you can optimise your blasting and get better fragmentation in the pit, you are saving energy, wear on materials, etc and you are doing some of the job of the concentrator and comminution process in the mine.”

A transition to a full emulsion blasting product came out of this study, and a move from NONEL detonators to electronic detonators could follow in the forthcoming years.

“That also led us into thinking about the future crusher – where we want to put it, what materials to feed into the expanded plant in the future, and what blending ratio we want to have from the pits,” North said. “The problem with pit development in a business that is moving 150-200 Mt of material a year is the crusher location needs to change as the mining horizons change.”

It ended up becoming a tradeoff between placing a new crusher in the pit on an assigned bench or putting it on top of the bench and hauling ore to that location.

The favoured location looks like being within the pit, according to North.

“It will be a substantial distance away from where our existing facility at Poltava is and we will convey the material into the plant,” he said. “We did the tradeoff study between hauling with trains/trucks, or conveying and, particularly for Belanovo, we need to take that ore to the crusher from the train network we already have in place.”

These internal ‘green’ initiatives are representative of the products Ferrexpo is supplying the steel industry.

Having shifted away from lower grade pellets to a higher-grade product in the past five years and started to introduce direct reduced iron pellet products to the market with trial shipments, Ferrexpo is looking to be a major player in the ‘green steel’ value chain.

North says as much.

“We are getting very close to understanding our path forward and our journey to carbon neutrality.”

The top four business problems the mining industry needs to solve today

Ahead of her appearance at the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) Online, conference organisers spoke with Michelle Ash, CEO of Dassault Systèmes’ GEOVIA division, to get her thoughts on some of the biggest problems the mining industry needs to solve today, and what the mining industry can learn from other industries to gain a competitive advantage.

IMARC: What aspects should mining companies pay attention to in order to prepare for (and accelerate) the industry transformation to a more sustainable future?

MA: The biggest challenge to the mining industry today and in the future is changing opinions, changing expectations of society, of people, and of citizens. Our performance as an industry and the rate at which societies’ expectations are changing is actually widening. This does not mean we are not transforming. As an industry, we are adopting new technology, innovating and doing things differently; however, society’s expectations of us as an industry are so much higher than in previous generations. This is simply the result of seeing ongoing dramatic change in other sectors and expecting the mining sector to change as fast and as radically. This means that not only do we need to increase our rate of transformation, we also need to fundamentally rethink some of our processes.

This translates into the need to adopt completely new ways of working, in order to remain relevant to the community and the emerging workforce. Mining companies need to increase the rate at which they adopt technologies that enable mobility and collaboration to solve problems in unique and transparent ways. These platforms and applications make working collaboratively from anywhere seamless. Mining businesses must also ensure their workforce build new skills, such as high voltage electrical, data science and analytics, robotics, instrumentation in order to attract young talent and remain competitive employers.

IMARC: What are the major business problems the industry needs to solve today?

MA: For me, there are four major problems we need to solve as an industry:

  • Global orebody intelligence: We need to be able to find orebodies faster, cheaper and more completely. We can use satellite imaging to detect orebodies and use physical geospatial and hyperspectral technologies to provide additional data to a geologist;
  • Automation and electrification: We need to understand performance and optimise performance in real time and optimise planning in real time;
  • Precision extraction: We need to be even more precise in extracting the metal that we are interested in without creating excessive waste and subsequently being able to process the metal efficiently. This means using digital twins to create simulations and what-if scenarios before building in real life with sensors in place for analytics. This not only minimises risk but also reduces errors, and waste; and
  • Creation of social value: We need to better use technology to create and distribute value to our communities.

Mining companies’ real competitive advantage is the speed at which they can adopt technology into their business that solves a business problem, while continuing to create value to society. This is where mining organisations need to look at solutions that are already available in other industries and their ecosystem of competition and collaboration in order to build a sustainable future.

IMARC: What lessons can the mining industry learn from other industries for their competitive advantage?

MA: The mining industry can learn from aircraft and automotive industries; two industries which experienced something similar in the last quarter of the last century. Both industries have fundamentally changed from leveraging emerging technology of the time and adopting radically different ways of doing things.

For example, in the aircraft industry, technology has helped in a 91% reduction in development time, 71% reduction in labour costs, 90% reduction in redesign and dramatically reduced design and production flaws, mismatches, and associated errors.

The auto industry has also developed into a segmented network in the last 50 years. For example, no car company makes windshields or rear-view-mirrors anymore – they are always purchased from windshield makers, and rear-view-mirror makers, respectively. This division of labour across the automotive ecosystem enables suppliers to be agile and innovative. This also means that auto-parts can be quickly and easily sourced, and suppliers empowered to design and produce new parts quickly and efficiently.

IMARC: How can the industry attract younger people and sustain diversity?

MA: The only question mining companies need to consider – how do I rapidly change the way we work to enable greater inclusivity, more remote working, whilst also adding value to our communities?

In most of the developed countries, the mining sector has a mature and ageing workforce. For example, in Russia and Australia, three quarters of the workforce will be retiring in the next 15 years. The younger generation does not see mining in the same way. In addition, the younger generation, being digital natives, are also more interested in automation jobs, the robotics jobs, the remote operating centre jobs, or working with drones. This means the sector has to evolve much more rapidly and incorporate new technology and new ways of working with some of this great equipment to solve problems and work in fundamentally different ways in order to attract the younger generation. The younger generation is much more collaborative, much more eager to talk about the issues that they see and find solutions.

Michelle Ash will be sharing further insights on ‘Shaping the Sustainable Future of Mining’ during her presentation at IMARC Online on November 25.

LKAB plots carbon-free pathway with direct reduced iron switch

LKAB has presented its new strategy for the future, setting out a path to achieve net-zero carbon emissions from its own processes and products by 2045, while securing the company’s operations with expanded mining beyond 2060.

Jan Moström, President and CEO of LKAB, said the plan represented the biggest transformation in the company’s 130-year history, and could end up being the largest industrial investment ever made in Sweden.

“It creates unique opportunities to reduce the world’s carbon emissions and for Swedish industry to take the lead in a necessary global transformation,” he said.

The strategy sets out three main tracks for the transformation:

  • New world standard for mining;
  • Sponge iron (direct reduced iron) produced using green hydrogen will in time replace iron ore pellets, opening the way for a fossil-free iron and steel industry; and
  • Extract critical minerals from mine waste: using fossil-free technology to extract strategically important earth elements and phosphorous for mineral fertiliser from today’s mine waste.

The transformation is expected to require extensive investments in the order of SEK10-20 billion ($1.2-2.3 billion) a year over a period of around 15 to 20 years within LKAB’s operations alone. The company said the new strategy was a response to market developments in the global iron and steel industry, “which is undergoing a technology shift”.

The move could cut annual carbon dioxide emissions from the company’s customers worldwide by 35 Mt, equivalent to two thirds of Sweden’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions, it said.

Developments under the HYBRIT project, in which SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall are collaborating on a process to enable the reduction of steel from iron ore using hydrogen instead of carbon, will be keenly observed following the miner’s announcement.

On top of this collaboration, LKAB is working with Sandvik, ABB, Combitec, Epiroc and several other industry leaders to develop the technology that will enable the transition to fossil-free, autonomous mines, it said.

Moström added: “The market for iron and steel will grow and, at the same time, the global economy is shifting towards a carbon-free future. Our carbon-free products will play an important part in the production of railways, wind farms, electric vehicles and industrial machinery.

“We will go from being part of the problem to being an important part of the solution.”

The market for steel is forecasted to grow by 50% by 2050. This growth will be achieved by an increase in the upgrading of recycled scrap in electric arc furnaces, according to LKAB. Today, the iron and steel industry accounts for more than a quarter of industrial emissions and for 7% of the world’s total carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, according to an IEA report.

The company said: “The global market price for recycled scrap is now twice that of iron ore pellets. The carbon-free sponge iron that will in time replace iron ore pellets as LKAB’s main export product is suitable for arc furnaces, allowing the company to offer industries throughout the world access to carbon-free iron.”

Moström said the switch from iron ore pellets to carbon-free sponge iron was an important step forward in the value chain, increasing the value of its products at the same time as giving customers direct access to “carbon-free iron”.

“That’s good for the climate and good for our business,” he said. “This transformation will provide us with good opportunities to more than double our turnover by 2045.”

During the transformation period, LKAB will supply iron ore pellets in parallel with developing carbon-free sponge iron.

To reach the new strategy’s goals, rapid solutions must be found for various complex issues, according to the company. These include permits, energy requirements and better conditions for research, development and innovation within primary industry.

Moström said: “Our transformation will dramatically improve Europe’s ability to achieve its climate goals. By reducing emissions primarily from our export business, we will achieve a reduction in global emissions that is equivalent to two-thirds of all Sweden’s carbon emissions. That’s three times greater than the effect of abandoning all cars in Sweden for good.

“It’s the biggest thing we in Sweden can do for the climate.”

Göran Persson, Chairman of the Board of LKAB, said: “What Swedish industry is now doing, spearheaded by LKAB, is to respond to the threatening climate crisis with innovation and technological change. In doing so, we are helping to secure a future for coming generations. This will also create new jobs in the county of Norrbotten, which will become a hub in a green industrial transformation. Succeeding in this will create ripples for generations to come. Not just here, but far beyond our borders.

“Now we are doing, what everyone says must be done.”

OceanaGold to set GHG emission targets on its way to ‘net zero’ goal

OceanaGold has become the latest miner to make a climate change pledge, releasing a position statement on the subject that includes an emissions reduction goal to achieve net zero emissions from its operations by 2050.

Included within this position statement is a plan to decarbonise its electrical energy supply and mobile equipment fuel.

The goal is core to OceanaGold’s environmental management strategy to mitigate the risks associated with climate change, establish measures and targets to improve the efficiency of its energy use and to minimise its greenhouse gas (GHG) emission intensity, the company said.

Michael Holmes, President and CEO of OceanaGold said: “OceanaGold has been strongly committed to responsible mining for 30 years, and, with current emissions lower than global industry average, we are already on the journey to reduce our carbon footprint.

“OceanaGold fully supports the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. In line with this objective, we are setting a goal to achieve net zero GHG emissions from our operations by 2050, and we will establish milestone intensity targets (GHG emissions per ounce of gold produced) by 2022 to support this goal.”

Delivery of net zero carbon emissions production will rely on step changes from new and emerging technologies to decarbonise OceanaGold’s electricity supplies and mobile equipment use and incrementally improving energy use, efficiency and reducing energy consumption, the company said.

Since 2018, OceanaGold has been implementing a company-wide program of automation, digital and process transformation called ADaPT. This is helping define the company’s journey to operate the mines of the future, it said.

“Digital transformation presents an industry-wide opportunity to enhance performance and reduce impact,” Holmes said. “Successful implementation of the rapid advances in technology, innovation, automation, digitisation and electrification are central to achieving OceanaGold’s commitment to reduce our environmental impact.”

OceanaGold has established a roadmap of strategic actions to help reduce its carbon footprint and improve energy management, including:

  • Setting the goal to achieve net zero GHG emissions by 2050;
  • Establishing milestone interim emission targets by the end of 2021, linked to employment performance incentives;
  • Establishing a climate change Technical Coordinating Committee to identify opportunities to reduce GHG emission intensity and identify risks, opportunities, priorities and costs across OceanaGold; and
  • Undertaking climate change management and reporting to meet the requirements of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).

Targets will be achieved through the implementation of four key strategic areas: improved energy efficiency and energy reduction; decarbonisation of electrical energy supply; decarbonisation of mobile equipment fuel; and carbon sequestration, the company said

COVID-19: the catalyst for driving sustainability in the metals and mining sector

COVID-19 has been a game-changer for many industries, with an inconceivable amount of companies closing or temporarily stopping their work, report Pat Lowery and Dr Nick Mayhew*.

The metals and mining industry has been no exception. By April this year, almost 250 mine sites in 33 countries had been disrupted by the virus with government-mandated shutdowns and hundreds of thousands of workers sent home either because they had contracted the virus or for their safety.

While the global pandemic has proved to be a severe crisis for the mining industry, severe crises force change, and the mining industry has been forced to commit to change and to new goals to survive.

At first, it seemed that companies might give up complying with sustainability and ESG (environment, social and governance) goals. However, the outcome was in fact the opposite. The pandemic has demonstrated that sustainability is now a permanent, key driver across the world, which will not be forgotten by governments nor the private sector.

Pat Lowery is Former Technical Director at De Beers and Group Head at Anglo American

The European Council made this clear by highlighting that it will not abandon its ‘Green Deal’ as part of its fiscal response to COVID-19. While in the US, New York State passed legislation which accelerated the construction of clean energy facilities as a way to spur economic recovery and fight climate change. As for investors, according to the COVID-19 Investor Pulse Check report, published by the Boston Consulting Group in May 2020, 51% of investors say they want CEOs to continue to fully pursue their ESG agenda and priorities.

COVID-19 not only set the records straight on a commitment to sustainability, but it provided a much-needed stimulus to spur the innovation required to achieve this desired goal. The metals and mining sector traditionally had a reputation for being slow to embrace new technologies – it ranked 30th out of 53 sectors in terms of R&D investment in the 2018 Global Innovation Study 1000 – however, it had no option but to react quickly to the crisis.

For instance, BHP created a COVID-19 tracking app and its Atacama mine in Chile developed a tool to remotely check stock levels for critical site materials – ensuring employee safety as well as a quick response.

Now, according to the Axora Insights COVID-19 survey, despite a significant drop in revenue after the pandemic caught the industry off-guard, experts expect the metals and mining sector’s investment in digital innovation to grow about 10% year-on-year. By using innovative technology, the industry will overcome the challenge of converting traditional mines into smart, sustainable ones with social commitment, responsibility and care towards their workers and their rights.

Dr Nick Mayhew is Chief Commercial Officer of Axora

Rio Tinto’s vast iron ore operation in Australia’s Pilbara region, for example, is the world’s largest owner and operator of autonomous trucks, having announced last year that 50% of its entire haulage fleet was automation-ready, providing safer and more cost-efficient sites. In Chile, Teck Resources is using remote smart sensor technology to gather data on the local water and identify hourly fluctuations in water quality, enabling the company to share 24/7 real-time water quality data with the local community. Nornickel in Russia is installing data transmission devices on load-haul-dump vehicles and self-propelled drilling rigs to enable remote-controlled operations, as well as developing drones to take video deep inside the mines and robots for high-quality 3D mine surveying.

Meanwhile, the Borden gold mine in Ontario, Canada, and the Agnew mine, in Western Australia, have faced their environmental challenges head-on by introducing electrification and renewable energy to their sites. The Borden mine’s electric and battery-powered fleet has eliminated diesel emissions completely and is expected to halve the total emissions on site by around 5,000 t of CO² a year. Whilst the Agnew mine met up to 60% of the site’s energy needs by running remote, off-grid operations with solar, gas, wind, and battery power, proving that such operations need not compromise reliability or productivity.

COVID-19 has escalated the need for a more sustainable and resilient metals and mining sector. There is a need to protect in the longer term, for example, against future pandemics, to ensure worker’s safety, to implement rapid recovery systems and to de-risk operations. Shifting global priorities are putting a greater emphasis on health, social and community issues; responsible partnering with the government; and pressure on companies to demonstrate fast and responsive action to current issues.

The global pandemic has provided metals and mining companies with the downtime to improve their innovative solutions and enable ‘smart’ and sustainable mines. From being a vague term, sustainability has become a real goal as COVID-19 has pushed companies to put the priorities and goals in the right order and to drive forward their businesses.

*Pat Lowery is Former Technical Director at De Beers and Group Head at Anglo American, and Dr Nick Mayhew is Chief Commercial Officer of Axora

Sandvik enters LKAB-led SUM project as Volvo Group departs

Sandvik has joined the Sustainable Underground Mining (SUM) project being run by LKAB at the same time as the Volvo Group has exited the Sweden-based collaboration.

The moves come as the iron ore miner looks to “further strengthen a joint endeavour towards sustainable underground mining at great depths”, it said.

To develop the digitalised, autonomous and carbon-dioxide-free mine of the future, in collaboration with other globally leading Swedish companies, LKAB initiated SUM in 2018.

After 2030, LKAB must be ready to mine iron ore deeper in the mines in Kiruna and Malmberget, in northern Sweden. For this, one of Sweden’s biggest industrial investments ever, decisions will have to be taken in the mid-2020s.

“This type of strategic collaboration project is very complex, each company contributes its specific expertise, and the partners will link together both digital systems and operations,” LKAB says. “Providing unique possibilities for SUM, the test mine, Konsuln, in Kiruna will serve as a real mine environment where technology, machines and working methods will be tested.”

Sandvik will be joining LKAB, Epiroc, ABB and Combitech in trying to achieve this goal. The Volvo Group’s earlier partnership in SUM will now take the form of other collaboration with LKAB, the miner said.

Jan Moström, President and CEO of LKAB, said: “In the coming years, LKAB must have a solution in place to be able to mine iron ore at depths approaching or exceeding 2,000 m in a cost-effective way by employing technology that is safe, autonomous, electrified, digitalised and carbon-dioxide-free.

“To enable this, collaboration with other leading industrial companies will be decisive. Sandvik’s longstanding experience of producing underground vehicle systems will complement the ongoing work in an important way.”

Stefan Widing, President and CEO Sandvik, said: “LKAB has used automated equipment from Sandvik for many years and we look forward to the opportunity to extend our collaboration and introduce new and advanced solutions that will set an industry standard.”

Epiroc and Sandvik will be relied on for battery-powered, autonomous and efficient mining equipment and related solutions that will ensure improved productivity and safety in LKAB’s mines. ABB’s role is to contribute knowledge and solutions for electrification, automation, service and maintenance. Combitech, meanwhile, will bring broad expertise and experience when it comes to connecting autonomous processes and people via so-called digital ecosystems.

LKAB says significant progress has been made on the project to date, including:

  • Successful establishment of the test mine, Konsuln, in Kiruna, where testing is carried out in a real mine environment;
  • An integration and collaboration platform, ‘LOMI’ (LKAB Open Mine Integrator) has been developed to enable an open systems architecture whereby all partners can develop modules and solutions that work together;
  • ABB has delivered ABB Ability System 800xA, the control-room console Extended Operation Workplace and a “Collaboration table” for visualising key functions and key figures in the mine, allowing the operator to monitor and control equipment in the best, most sustainable way. The ambition is that everything that is done in the test mine can be approved, planned and controlled via a project office at surface level, so that underground work can be done more efficiently;
  • Epiroc has delivered the drill rig Easer L and Scooptram ST18 LHD, both equipped for automation functionality, for the test mine, and operators and service personnel have been trained. The Easer L, commissioned in 2019, has shown good results in drilling over 50-m-long holes in the test mine, which is an important step for planning the future mine layout. For the loader, during Autumn 2020, the plan is to conduct tests with increasing complexity in terms of automation and interoperability; and
  • Combitech has delivered new solutions for systems platforms on an ongoing basis together with LKAB’s IT department. The aim is to synchronise new technology with existing systems.

In March 2020, the “Testbed for integrated, efficient and carbon-dioxide-free mining systems”, a part of SUM, received funding amounting to 207 million Swedish kronor ($23 million) from the Swedish Energy Agency.

BHP weighs trolley assist and IPCC as part of decarbonisation efforts

BHP has provided an update on its progress on climate action, new climate commitments and how it integrates climate change into corporate strategy and portfolio decisions in a new report.

The company’s climate change approach focuses on reducing operational greenhouse gas emissions, investing in low emissions technologies, promoting product stewardship, managing climate-related risk and opportunity, and partnering with others to enhance the global policy and market response, it says.

“BHP supports the aim of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C,” the company clarified.

It explained: “BHP has been active in addressing climate risks for more than two decades, and has already established its long-term goal of achieving net zero operational (Scope 1 and 2) emissions by 2050 and its short-term target of maintaining operational emissions at or below financial year (FY) 2017 levels by FY2022, using carbon offsets as required.”

In the past year, BHP has made progress on this aim, announcing that the Escondida and Spence copper mines in Chile will move to 100% renewable energy by the mid-2020s, and, last week, awarding new renewable energy contracts for its Queensland coal assets, and the world’s first LNG-fuelled Newcastlemax bulk carrier tender.

BHP’s climate change briefing and 2020 climate change report outline how the company will accelerate its own actions and help others to do the same, it said. Today’s update sets out:

  • A medium-term target to reduce operational greenhouse gas emissions by at least 30% from adjusted FY2020 levels by FY2030;
  • Scope 3 actions to contribute to decarbonisation in its value chain. This includes supporting the steelmaking industry to develop technologies and pathways capable of 30% emissions intensity reduction with widespread adoption expected post-2030 and, in terms of transportation, supporting emissions intensity reduction of 40% in BHP-chartered shipping of products;
  • Strengthened linking of executive remuneration to delivery of BHP’s climate plan; and
  • Insight into the performance of BHP’s portfolio in a transition to a 1.5°C scenario.

The report also outlined some examples of emission reduction projects the miner is considering, which will be weighed as part of the maintenance capital category of its capital allocation framework. This includes solar power installations; alternative material movement technologies such as overland conveyors and in-pit crush and convey solutions; and trolley assist to displace diesel for haul trucks.

The company expanded on this in its report: “The path to electrification of mining equipment will likely include solutions such as trolley assist, in-pit crush and convey, overland conveyors and battery solutions.

“Diesel displacement represents a higher risk, higher capital step towards decarbonisation, so a phased approach to execution is proposed with particular emphasis on Minerals Americas-operated assets that are further advanced on the decarbonisation journey. Taking a transitional approach to electrification provides flexibility to allow for the potential for rapid development of emerging technologies and to resolve the complexities of integrating these technologies into existing operations.

“During FY2021, we will seek to collaborate further with International Council on Mining and Metals members, industry and original equipment manufacturers to progress research and development to reduce costs and assess any potential impacts from electrified mining equipment solutions to replace current diesel options.”

BHP Chief Executive Officer, Mike Henry, said of the report: “I’m pleased today to show how we are accelerating our own actions and helping others to do the same in addressing climate change. We see ourselves as accountable to take action. We recognise that our investors, our people and the communities and nations who host our operations or buy our products have increasing expectations of us – and are responsive to these.

“Our approach to climate change is defined by a number of key requirements. Our actions must be of substance. They must be real, tangible actions to drive emissions down. We must focus on what we can control inside our business, and work with others to help them reduce emissions from the things that they control. To create long-term value and returns over generations, we must continue to generate value and returns within the strong portfolio we have today, while shaping our portfolio over time to benefit from the megatrends playing out in the world including decarbonisation and electrification.

“Our portfolio is well positioned to support the transition to a lower carbon world aligned with the Paris Agreement. Our commodities are essential for global economic growth and the world’s ability to transition to and thrive in a low carbon future. Climate change action makes good economic sense for BHP and enables us to create further value.”

Bis looking at hybrid, electric and automated Rexx haul truck variants, Peate says

Bis is already offering clients a “step change in flexibility and efficiency” with its Rexx haul truck, but Chief Development Officer, Todd Peate, says the company has plans to offer hybrid, electric and automated versions of the 160 t payload vehicle as it looks to offer customers a further boost in productivity and their environmental footprint.

Speaking in a blog post on Bis’ website, Peate said the launch of Rexx, a solution that can come out of pit and travel up to 30 km while reducing fuel consumption up to 40%, is a fantastic example of a lower cost approach to running mining fleets.

Rexx was launched in 2018, with Peate saying six customers have been running detailed trials of this solution during 2019 and 2020 as part of fleet replenishment and cost optimisation project assessments.

Among these are trials at Gold Fields’ Granny Smith mine and Glencore’s Murrin Murrin operation, both in Western Australia.

“Rexx speaks directly to improvements in environmental footprint and productivity for our customers,” he said, adding that, in Bis’ short- to medium-term roadmap, variants will be available in both hybrid and electric forms, with the existing solution capable to be retrofitted with automation capability.

“With the success of Rexx and feedback from the market, we have a roadmap for a product family that will see Rexx continue to grow well into the back end of this decade and beyond,” he said.

Meanwhile, in other areas, Bis is developing a “category disruptor” in the underground market in the early part of 2021, Peate said.

He concluded with the news: “From an automation point of view, we’ll be bringing something to the market very soon in the form of an offering that has potential application for not only our equipment, but for all equipment in the industry.

“Stay tuned!”