Tag Archives: natural gas

Rio Tinto to provide Salzgitter with iron ore for hydrogen direct reduction steelmaking trials

Rio Tinto and the Salzgitter Group have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to work together towards carbon-free steelmaking by studying optimisation of Rio Tinto’s high-quality Canadian and Australian iron ore products for use in Salzgitter’s SALCOS® green steel project in Germany.

Under the MoU, the two companies will explore optimisation of iron ore pellets, lump and fines for use in hydrogen direct reduction steelmaking. The two companies will also explore the potential for greenhouse gas emission certification across the steel value chain.

Rio Tinto produces iron ore pellets and concentrate at Iron Ore Company of Canada and iron ore lump and fines in Western Australia’s Pilbara region. The partnership will focus on the potential use of these products in the SALCOS – Salzgitter Low CO2 Steelmaking – program, which is targeting virtually carbon-free steel production, starting step-by-step in 2025 using hydrogen direct reduction.

Rio Tinto Chief Commercial Officer, Alf Barrios, said: “We welcome the chance to work with Salzgitter on ways to accelerate green steelmaking, in keeping with our commitment to reduce emissions across the steel value chain.

“Salzgitter has one of the world’s most advanced green steelmaking projects. Rio Tinto is excited at the opportunity of supplying our product and combining our technical expertise with that of Salzgitter to help advance the SALCOS project.”

Salzgitter Flachstahl GmbH Chairman of the Management Board, Ulrich Grethe, said: “With this alliance, we want to combine the knowledge of both companies to make further progress with low-carbon steel production.

“In this context, the Salzgitter Group is relying on strong partners, as set out in our ‘Salzgitter AG 2030’ Group strategy, in line with its motto of ‘Partnering for Circular Solutions’.”

The agreement follows a similar technical cooperation pact signed with LKAB last week, which could see the Europe-based iron ore miner supply high-quality iron ore pellets to Salzgitter for its SALCOS project.

Rio Tinto says it is committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2050 and is targeting a 15% reduction in Scope 1 & 2 emissions by 2025 (from a 2018 baseline) and a 50% reduction by 2030. Rio Tinto’s approach to addressing Scope 3 emissions is to engage with its customers on climate change and work with them to develop the technologies to decarbonise.

Under the SALCOS program, Salzgitter’s carbon-based blast furnace route will gradually be replaced from the middle of this decade by direct reduction plants, initially operated by natural gas and then with a steadily increasing proportion of hydrogen.

Metso Outotec launches Ferroflame LowNOx burner for pelletising plants

Metso Outotec has launched the Ferroflame™ LowNOx burner for travelling grate pelletising plants to enable pellet plant operators to, it says, achieve the stringent nitrogen oxide emission targets with ease.

The new burner is part of the company’s Planet Positive offering focused on environmentally-efficient technologies.

The Ferroflame LowNOx burner uses high-speed dilution, which is an effective way to improve the combustion process and reduce NOx emissions. It works seamlessly with natural gas, and tests demonstrate that can also be used with diesel and coke oven gas, according to Metso Outotec.

“We are very excited about the Ferroflame LowNOx burner, our emission- and cost-efficient alternative to minimise NOx emissions from the combustion process,” Dr Andreas Munko, Senior Product Manager, Ferrous and Heat Transfer at Metso Outotec, said. “Its functionality and performance with natural gas have been proven on site. The burners have been operating successfully at a client site since 2019.”

Metso Outotec says its Ferroflame LowNOx burner offers an up to 80% reduction of NOx emissions, an expected thermal penalty on natural gas circa-10% and an increased pellet homogeneity and quality.

IMARC ready to explore the race to decarbonise the energy sector

The global effort to decarbonise the energy sector is underway, and the race to net zero is shaping up to be an investment opportunity to define the decades to come, the organisers of the IMARC conference report.

Research suggests that as the price of adopting green energy continues to fall, so will the global demand for fossil-fuelled energy sources. Eventually a tipping point will be reached, and fossil fuel dependent energy companies’ assets will become ‘stranded’ unless they can adapt or pivot toward new sustainable energy practices.

As nations in the first world expand and those from the second and third world modernise, their energy needs will do the same, meaning more electricity, more hydrogen, more nuclear and more yet-to-be-discovered energy sources will be needed than ever before.

For the companies participating in Australia’s biggest mining conference, the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in 2022, staying in the race to decarbonise is essential.

Tipping point

Research suggests the tipping point for fossil-fuelled energy providers will come when costs for renewables reach parity with the lowest-cost traditional fossil alternatives, and this could be much sooner than 2050.

For such companies, demonstrating the long-term value to investors in a soon-to-be stranded asset class is becoming an increasingly hard sell. But it does not have to be. By pivoting toward renewable energy and investing in a low-carbon future, companies can ensure their survival after net zero.

EDL CEO, James Harman, said the industry was making the slow but sure transition to decarbonisation.

“The world has long relied on cheap, plentiful fossil fuels to power economies,” Harman said.

“In the early 2010s, EDL started looking to solar and wind generation as alternatives to fossil fuels across our portfolio, particularly for off-grid customers in remote Australia who were largely dependent on diesel- or gas-fuelled generation.

“In recent years, we have enjoyed great success with our hybrid energy solutions, helping our customers reduce their carbon footprint, but importantly maintaining and improving reliability whilst holding or reducing price. For example, our Agnew Hybrid Renewable Microgrid at Gold Fields’ Agnew Gold Mine provides the mine with energy that is an average of 50-60% from renewable sources, with 99.99% reliability.”

“EDL was one of the pioneers in the Australian landfill gas sector in the 1990s and, today, we are leading the way in high renewable energy fraction islanded microgrids. We are also exploring the introduction of landfill gas to renewable natural gas/biomethane technology to the Australian market, and the economic production of green hydrogen.”

ESG reinvigorating investment

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) frameworks are, at their core, risk assessment tools that consider the effect climate change will have on investors’ value creation opportunities. In June 2021, research and advisory experts, Gartner, released some jaw-dropping facts about the growing importance of ESG credentials.

According to Gartner, more than 90% of banks monitor ESG, along with 24 global credit ratings agencies, 71% of fixed income investors and more than 90% of insurers. Media mentions of ESG data, ratings or scores grew by 30% year-over-year in 2020, and 67% of banks screen their loan portfolios for ESG risks.

Harman acknowledged that it was important for attitudes and practices across the energy sector to change.

“Given that electricity generators are some of Australia’s biggest carbon emitters and most of the product generated is carbon intensive and derived from fossil fuels – the most important ESG themes for energy companies are climate change action and environmental stewardship,” he said.

“This includes investment in research and development into zero emissions technologies such as distributed energy solutions, energy storage and alternative renewable fuels as well as carbon capture & storage.”

ABB Australia Head of Mining, Nik Gresshoff, is encouraged by the innovation and progress he’s seeing in electrification and hydrogen technologies. ABB Australia is a Gold Sponsor of IMARC in 2022.

“The challenge for mining companies now is to map out their own journey, and to weigh up the gains that can be achieved now through automation, along with the investment required to get to net zero,” Gresshoff said.

Gresshoff recommends companies first define what their carbon footprint is, and what falls within their scope for decarbonisation, before beginning a net-zero journey. “Are they focusing on direct and indirect emissions initially or including the whole supply chain from the outset?” he asked.

“The next step is to examine the technology and what is currently possible to decarbonise. Having a clear understanding of where the company assets are in their lifecycle is critical, as well as an understanding of what technology is available and what technology could fit with the current operation.”

Can dinosaurs survive the Ice Age?

Fossil fuels may be going the way of the dinosaurs that created them, but economies of the future will still require the massive infrastructure frameworks and operational capacities to meet current and future energy needs.

In fact, economists have suggested an overnight collapse of the energy giants could result in massive job cuts and instability leading to a global economic recession.

As was made clear at the Glasgow COP 26 Summit, there is a ‘wall of money’ that will be available for the energy companies of the future – whether that is retrofitting existing gas pipelines for transport of liquid hydrogen or utilising closed coal mine sites for new nuclear power sites, or any number of ways that energy companies can and are pivoting.
EDL believes there is an opportunity for many technologies to play their part.

“There won’t be a one-size-fits-all energy solution that achieves affordability, reliability and sustainability for our diverse country,” Harman said.

“Large conventional power stations are and will continue to be replaced with lower emissions plant with support to make them more dispatchable, allowing cheaper renewable energy to be scheduled when available.

“For shorter-term storage, batteries are feasible but longer-term storage is currently uneconomic. There are a few potential options to resolve this including pumped hydro, new kinds of batteries and hydrogen.

“Based on our experience in the USA, we also see the potential for renewable natural gas (RNG), or biomethane, to play a significant part in the transition from fossil fuels to renewables in the industrial, heating, power and transport industries. RNG production is a technologically mature, ready-to-scale product that is deployable now.”

EDL’s James Harman will be sharing further insights on net zero at the upcoming IMARC in Melbourne, Australia, taking place on January 31-February 2, 2022.

IM is a media sponsor of IMARC

Fortescue Future Industries, Incitec Pivot to study ‘green’ hydrogen options at Gibson Island

Fortescue Future Industries (FFI) says it is partnering with Incitec Pivot, Australia’s largest fertiliser supplier, to conduct a feasibility study to convert its ammonia-production facility at Gibson Island in Brisbane, Queensland, to run on green, renewable hydrogen.

The ammonia-production facility at Gibson Island currently uses natural gas as a feedstock and has a contract in place for this supply until the end of 2022.

FFI also plans to construct an on-site electrolysis plant, which will produce up to 50,000 t/y of renewable, green hydrogen for conversion into green ammonia.

The project, if successful, will create a new domestic and export market for green, renewable ammonia, according to FFI. The resulting green ammonia could also provide a low-carbon fuel supply to the Port of Brisbane and Brisbane airport.

Decarbonising existing industrial plants remains a major challenge in the transition to a green, renewable future, FFI says. The company aims to demonstrate that infrastructure conversion is both technically and economically feasible, in order to accelerate decarbonisation while protecting jobs.

FFI says today’s announcement aligns with the Queensland and Commonwealth governments’ strategy to develop an innovative and competitive green hydrogen industry that delivers reliable domestic supply and new export opportunities.

Incitec Pivot produces around 2 Mt/y of fertilisers for use in Australia’s grain, cotton, pasture, dairy, sugar and horticulture industries. The first step of the project will be a feasibility study, with preliminary results available by the end of 2021.

This is the second major announcement by FFI this week in Queensland, following an announcement to establish the world’s largest electrolyser, renewable industry and equipment manufacturing centre, the Global Green Energy Manufacturing Centre, at Gladstone.

FFI says it is committed to generating 15 Mt/y of green hydrogen by 2030, rising to 50 Mt/y in the decade thereafter. While FFI’s green hydrogen will supply both domestic and export markets, it will also enable Fortescue to achieve its industry-leading target of carbon neutrality by 2030.

FFI Chief Executive Officer, Julie Shuttleworth, said: “FFI’s goal is to become the world’s leading, renewable energy and green products company, powering the Australian economy and creating jobs for Australia as we transition away from fossil fuels.

“FFI’s partnership with Incitec Pivot is an exciting opportunity to harness existing infrastructure at Gibson Island, fast tracking the production of green ammonia at an industrial scale.”

Incitec Pivot Managing Director, Jeanne Johns, said: “We are pleased to be partnering our world-class manufacturing and ammonia expertise in Australia with FFI’s hydrogen and renewable energy capabilities to contribute to Australia’s potential as a green ammonia powerhouse.

“If feasible, this project would sustain highly skilled manufacturing jobs at Gibson Island and allow us to leverage our existing capabilities and assets to create a thriving renewable hydrogen ecosystem in Australia in the near term.”

Yamana Gold retains electrification path for Wasamac in new study

Yamana Gold has reiterated a plan to minimise the amount of carbon emissions generated with the development and operation of the Wasamac gold project in Quebec, Canada, in its first study since acquiring the asset from Monarch Gold.

Monarch, prior to being taken over by Yamana Gold, had laid out plans for an underground mine at Wasamac producing 6,000 t/d, on average, with an expected mine life of 11 years. It expected to use a Rail-Veyor® electrically powered, remote-controlled underground haulage system in addition to an almost entirely electric fleet of production and development equipment.

The December 2018 feasibility study by BBA indicated the Wasamac deposit hosted a measured and indicated mineral resource of 29.86 Mt at an average grade of 2.7 g/t Au, for a total of 2.6 Moz of gold, and proven and probable mineral reserves of 21.46 Mt at an average grade of 2.56 g/t Au, for a total of 1.8 Moz of gold. The study forecast average annual production of 142,000 oz of gold for 11 years at a cash cost of $550/oz.

With drilling, due diligence and further studies, Yamana Gold, in studies forming the new feasibility level studies, has come up with baseline technical and financial aspects of the Wasamac project that, it says, underpin the decision to advance the project to production.

This has resulted in a few changes to the Wasamac plan.

For starters, the company plans to use the extract the now 1.91 Moz of reserves quicker than Monarch’s strategy, with a rapid production ramp-up in the first year followed by sustained gold production of approximately 200,000 oz/y for at least the next four years.

Including the ramp-up phase, average annual production for the first five years of operation is expected to be 184,000 oz, the company said, with life of mine production of 169,000 oz/y. Mill throughput has been increased to 7,000 t/d, on average, but the plant and associated infrastructure were being sized for 7,500 t/d. Production could start up in the December quarter of 2026, the initial capital expense was expected to be $416 million and all-in sustaining costs over the life of mine had been calculated at $828/oz.

The use of a conveyor is still within this plan, but a company spokesperson told IM that Yamana was now considering a conventional belt conveyor rather than the Rail-Veyor system.

Yamana explained: “The optimised materials handling system uses ore passes and haul trucks to transport ore from the production levels to a central underground primary crusher. The haul trucks will be automated to allow haulage to continue between shifts. From the underground crusher, ore will be transported to the crushed-ore stockpile on the surface using a 3-km-long conventional conveyor system in two segments.”

Yamana added: “Using a conveyor rather than diesel trucks to transport ore to surface reduces CO2 emissions by 2,233 t/y, equivalent to taking 500 cars off the road. Over the life of mine, the company expects to reduce CO2 emissions by more than 20,000 t.”

The aim to use electric vehicles wherever possible remains in place.

“The Wasamac underground mine is designed to create a safe working environment and reduce consumption of non-renewable energy through the use of electric and high-efficiency equipment,” the company said. “Yamana has selected electric and battery-electric mobile equipment provided that the equipment is available at the required specifications.

“Battery-electric underground haul trucks are not yet available at the required capacity with autonomous operation, so diesel trucks have been selected in combination with the underground conveyor. However, Yamana continues to collaborate with equipment suppliers with the expectation that the desired battery-electric equipment will be available before Wasamac is in operation.”

In tandem with this, the company plans to use a ventilation on demand solution and high-efficiency fans to reduce its power requirements. This will likely rely on an underground LTE network.

“Heating of the underground mine and surface facilities is designed with the assumption of propane burners, but an opportunity exists to extend the natural gas line to the project site,” it added. “Yamana has initiated discussions with the natural gas supplier and will study this opportunity further as the project advances.”

The site for the processing plant and offices is confined to a small footprint strategically located in a naturally concealed area, and the processing plant has been designed with a low profile to minimise the visual impact as well as minimise noise and dust, according to Yamana.

The primary crusher, previously planned to be located on surface, has been moved underground, with the crushed material transported to surface from the underground mining area using conventional conveyors and stored on surface in a covered stockpile to control dust.

Several design improvements to the previous Wasamac plans have also been made to reduce consumption of fresh water to minimise the effect on watersheds, according to Yamana. Underground mine water will be used in the processing plant, minimising the draw of fresh water and reducing the required size of the mill basin pond.

The Wasamac tailings storage strategy is designed to minimise environmental footprint and mitigate risk, it added.

“Around 39% of tailings will be deposited underground as paste fill and 61% of tailings will be pumped as a slurry to the filter plant located approximately 6 km northwest of the processing plant and then hauled to the nearby dry-stack tailings storage facility,” Yamana said.

Strategic phasing of the tailings storage facility design allows for the same footprint as previously planned, even with the increase in mineral reserves, the company clarified. Also, the progressive reclamation plan for this facility minimises the possibility of dust generation and expedites the return of the landscape to its natural state.

Suncor backs Svante and its carbon dioxide capture technology

Suncor has backed the decarbonisation and hydrogen production ambitions of carbon capture technology company Svante, joining a number of firms in its latest equity raising.

Svante is looking to accelerate the commercialisation of its novel second generation CO2 capture technology, aiming to decarbonise industrial emissions and hydrogen production in North America. Its technology, Svante claims, captures carbon dioxide from flue gas, concentrates it, then releases it for safe storage or industrial use.

Combined, Suncor and a number of family office investors have invested $25 million of equity financing, bringing the total proceeds raised under Svante’s Series D financing to $100 million, completing what Suncor says is the largest single private investment into point source carbon capture technology globally to date.

Svante has now attracted more than $175 million in total funding since it was founded in 2007 to develop and commercialise its breakthrough solid sorbent technology at half the capital cost of traditional engineered solutions.

Claude Letourneau, President & CEO of Svante Inc, said: “Svante has generated a pipeline of potential new project opportunities capturing over 40 Mt of CO2/y before 2030 from natural gas industrial boilers, cement and lime, and blue hydrogen industrial facilities, mainly in North America and spurred by both US and Canada federal CO2 tax credits and prices on CO2 emissions.”

According to Mark Little, President & CEO of Suncor, “carbon capture is a strategic technology area for Suncor to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our base business and produce blue hydrogen as an energy product. An investment in Svante is expected to support the acceleration of commercial-scale deployment of a technology that has the potential to dramatically reduce the cost associated with carbon capture. We are excited to become both an investor in and a collaborative partner with the company.”

Letourneau added on Suncor’s investment: “We are pleased to partner with a leading Canadian player in the energy industry, alongside existing investor Cenovus, and to benefit not only from their financial support but also their commitment to deliver low-carbon fuels and blue hydrogen to transform the energy system.”

Svante says its approach is tailored specifically to the challenges of separating CO₂ from nitrogen contained in diluted flue gas generated by industrial plants such as cement, steel, aluminium, fertiliser and hydrogen, which is typically emitted in large volumes, at low pressures, and dilute concentrations.

It uses tailor-made nano-materials (solid adsorbents) with very high storage capacity for carbon dioxide. It has engineered these adsorbents to catch and release CO₂ in less than 60 seconds, compared with hours for other technologies.

The company’s carbon capture technology consists of a patented architecture of structured adsorbent laminate (spaced sheets), proprietary process cycle design, and a rotary mechanical contactor to capture, release and regenerate the adsorbent in a single unit.

In January, Lafarge Canada, Svante and Total announced they had reached a major milestone at its Project CO2MENT, a first-of-its kind partnership to capture industrial levels of CO2 emissions from a cement plant. The multi-phase project celebrated the completion of Phase II construction to have the technology to capture and filter the CO2 from the flue gas. This was a crucial component to achieving the next stage of capturing CO2 flow at the Lafarge Richmond cement facility in British Columbia, Canada.

Kobe Steel demonstrates new, cleaner steel production technology

Kobe Steel says it has successfully demonstrated technology that can significantly reduce CO2 emissions from blast furnace operations, combining the technologies of Midrex in the engineering business and the blast furnace operation technology in the iron and steel business.

This achievement is a result of the integrated efforts of the Kobe Steel Group (also known as the KOBELCO Group) leveraging its diverse businesses, it said. The demonstration test was conducted for a month at a large blast furnace (4,844 cu.m) of the Kakogawa Works in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, in October 2020.

The quantity of CO2 emissions from the blast furnace is determined by the reducing agent rate (RAR), or the quantity of carbon fuel used in blast furnace ironmaking. In the demonstration test, it was verified that RAR could be stably reduced from 518 kg per tonne of hot metal (thm) to 415 kg/thm by charging a large amount of hot briquetted iron produced by the MIDREX® Process. The results indicate that this technology can reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 20% compared with the conventional method, the company said.

In addition, the world’s lowest level of coke rate (239 kg/thm) has been achieved in the demonstration test of this technology, the company claimed.

Kobe Steel sees this as a promising solution that could become readily available soon at a lower additional cost compared with other CO2-reduction measures.

The MIDREX Process uses natural gas as the reductant and pellets made of iron ore as the source of iron to make direct reduced iron through the reduction process in the shaft furnace. In comparison with the blast furnace method, the MIDREX Process can reduce CO2 emissions by 20-40%.

The company said: “We will keep improving this CO2-reduction solution technology while further reducing CO2 emissions and achieving lower costs for CO2 reduction. Beyond our own efforts to reduce emissions from our facilities, we will strive to contribute to the acceleration of CO2 reduction through introducing this solution to blast furnaces around the world.

“In addition, we believe that the success of the demonstration test on an actual blast furnace has made a significant step forward in providing low CO2 steel products to customers. As moving forward with our environmental efforts on the scale of the whole supply chain, we will establish production and sales systems and define the terms and conditions for sales so that we can provide customers with low CO2 steel products that offer new added value.”

Cleveland-Cliffs commits to new greenhouse gas emission goals

Iron ore miner and steelmaker Cleveland-Cliffs Inc has set a target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2030, with the use of carbon capture technologies and natural gas/hydrogen in the production of hot briquetted iron (HBI) just some of paths it is pursuing.

This goal represents combined Scope 1 (direct) and Scope 2 (indirect) greenhouse gas emission reductions on a mass basis (t/y) compared with 2017 baseline levels.

Prior to setting this goal with its newly acquired steel assets from AK Steel and ArcelorMittal USA, the company said it exceeded its previous 26% greenhouse gas reduction target at its mining and pelletising facilities six years ahead of its 2025 goal. In 2019, it reduced its combined Scope 1 and Scope 2 GHG emissions by 42% on a mass basis from 2005 baseline levels, it said.

Lourenco Goncalves, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, said: “We at Cleveland-Cliffs acknowledge that one of the most important issues impacting our planet is climate change. The American steel industry is one of the cleanest and most energy efficient in the world, and therefore the utilisation of steel Made in the USA is a decisively positive move to protect the planet against massive pollution embedded in the steel produced in other countries.”

He added: “In the past year, Cleveland-Cliffs has transformed itself into the largest flat-rolled steel producer in North America. As a company currently employing more than 25,000 people, the vast majority of them in good paying middle-class union jobs, our commitment to operating our business in an environmentally and socially responsible manner remains our priority.

“As we continue to grow the company going forward, we will vigorously pursue the opportunities we have outlined in our Greenhouse Gas Reduction Commitment, and will be transparent with our stakeholders by regularly reporting on our progress.”

Cleveland-Cliffs’ plan is based on its execution of the following five strategic priorities:

  • Developing domestically sourced, high quality iron ore feedstock and utilising natural gas in the production of HBI;
  • Implementing energy efficiency and green energy projects;
  • Investing in the development of carbon capture technology;
  • Enhancing its greenhouse gas emissions transparency and sustainability focus; and
  • Supporting public policies that facilitate carbon reduction in the domestic steel industry.

Only last year, Cleveland-Cliffs completed the construction of its first Direct Reduction Plant (pictured) to make it the first HBI producer in the Great Lakes Region of North America.

The company said: “To further reduce our GHG footprint at the new Direct Reduction Plant, we will evaluate partnering with hydrogen producers to replace natural gas use with hydrogen when it becomes commercially available in significant quantities.”

Without any modifications to the plant’s configuration, the company says it can replace up to 30% of the plant’s natural gas consumption with hydrogen to reduce GHG emissions by approximately 450,000 t/y.

“With limited equipment modifications and investments, we could increase hydrogen usage up to 70% and reduce over 1 Mt of GHG emissions per year,” it added.

The company said it is also currently working to implement numerous energy efficiency projects, which include, but are not limited to: improving furnace fuel efficiency; upgrading mobile mining fleet and locomotive engines to high efficiency/low emission models; investing in electrical energy efficiency projects; replacing traditional lighting with LED lamps; and cogenerating electricity from by-product gases.

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.”

Primero banks new work with Fortescue, Rio Tinto and Hazer Group

Primero Group says it has recently booked new business totalling some A$55 million ($39 million) with Fortescue Metals Group, Rio Tinto and the Hazer Group as it continues to build out its 2021 financial year contracted order book.

First, it has been awarded the engineering, procurement and construction contract for the Non-Process Infrastructure (NPI) at Fortescue’s Eliwana mine and rail project, in the Pilbara.

Works commenced in late July based on a limited notice to proceed, with the full contract now awarded to Primero following a successful Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) process. The contract includes the complete engineering design, procurement and construction of heavy vehicle workshops and washdown and refuelling infrastructure required for the new Eliwana mine, with works expected to be completed in the 2021 financial year.

Once completed, the $1.275 billion Eliwana project, which includes the building of a 30 Mt/y iron ore processing facility, will maintain Fortescue’s overall production rate of a minimum 170 Mt/y over 20 years.

With Rio Tinto, Primero has been awarded two multi-year Master Service Agreements for NPI and Structural, Mechanical, Piping services across the miner’s Pilbara operational and project locations. The two contracts have an initial term of three years, with an option for a two-year extension. They cover sustaining capital and maintenance projects required over that period across all Rio Tinto Iron Ore Pilbara sites, it said.

The services cover design, procurement and construction activities for engagement under negotiated commercial terms in a “panel style agreement”, according to Primero.

Primero has also been awarded an EPC contract for Hazer Group’s hydrogen/graphene commercial demonstration plant in Western Australia at the Woodman Point Water Treatment Facility.

Hazer is undertaking the commercialisation of the Hazer Process, a low-emission hydrogen and graphite production process. This process enables the effective conversion of natural gas and similar methane feedstocks, into hydrogen and high-quality graphite, using iron ore as a process catalyst, according to the company.

“The full project award has followed a successful ECI process that has extended over the past 12 months,” Primero said. “This process was targeted at developing the technology engineering to the point where a commercial contract could be executed to deliver the project. The project is the first of its kind in the new global renewables energy market and is patented groundbreaking technology in the hydrogen space.”

Alongside this, Primero said it had been awarded the detailed design contract for a 130 km water delivery pipeline and associated pumping stations for the Covalent Lithium Mt Holland project feasibility study in Western Australia.

Primero said its committed order book for the 2021 financial year now stands at around A$285 million.