IDTechEx report: mine electrification offers prospect to sell renewable power

IDTechEx, a market researcher, business intelligence provider and emerging technology advisor, has released a report on the growing electrification of the mining […]
SunMine solar project, Western Canada’s largest solar-powered development, located on the former Sullivan mine. Credit: Teck Resources.

IDTechEx, a market researcher, business intelligence provider and emerging technology advisor, has released a report on the growing electrification of the mining sector. Among many reasons for optimism it outlines is the opportunity that comes with electrification to sell renewable power generated at mine sites.

Mining is a very large, growing business, and IDTechEx notes that industry consolidation is progressing into very large volume players and niche players with fewer prospering in between. As greater commonality arises, there will be mergers across broader sectors, not just within traditional mining. Drivers are increased economy of scale, reducing emissions, going downstream to increase margins, repurposing of slag heaps, fly ash, metakaolin, silica fume, iron ore tailings, scrap concrete and so on. Sites are themselves becoming larger and more vertically integrated, for example doing more processing and making their own zero-emission wind and solar power. For all of them, 100% electrification and unmanned activity is the end game, driven by economics, health and saving the planet.

Making and selling mine electricity

IDTechEx reports that a large percentage of the above activities are moving to on-site zero-emission electricity production and this brings the opportunity to create extra earning streams from selling electricity and long-term delayed electricity. That energy storage currently means around ten hours for solar dead at night and untrustworthy wind power, but it will soon include the new market of seasonal storage created by all the solar arriving being feeble in winter. Mine installations beat batteries here.

Solar output has been increased by panels being on water such as flooded gravel pits. 120 MW is proposed at East Windsor, Connecticut, and other pits are already generating. Compressed air storage takes place in mining caverns. Gravity storage and thermal storage use rocks, mine shafts and rail systems up the side of pits, though most are trials or proposals as yet. Pumping heavy liquids up the side of a mine can store as much energy as pumping water alone up a mountain (if you have no mountain) but the important takeaway is that electricity production and storage are a gift to miners wanting to create extra earning streams while reducing emissions.

Wide choice of mining electric vehicles

The battery-electric vehicles are already available and the broad mining industry as IDTechEx describes it needs to buy them more quickly. As with a private car, the total cost of ownership is lower with battery-electric now. That includes battery drills, excavators, loaders, load-haul dumpers, giant dump trucks, even ones delivering rotating premix concrete and Class 8 on-road haulers (2021 USDOE study verifies the economics of the latter). The problem with all these electric vehicles is not supply, but the mining and allied downstream industries adopting them too slowly. Fuel cell vehicles and a hydrogen economy in mining may have a secondary place in due course.

Announcements come thick and fast. New Terra EV all-electric tractors have the capacity to power SmithCo side dump trailer units with capacities from 50 to 240 tonnes. Using the same Terra EV base platform to power conventional support units provides an opportunity to completely transform operations to all-electric, according to Terra EV. Pronto artificial intelligence autonomous system can be added. Williams Advanced Engineering in the UK has announced a new partnership with iron ore leader Fortescue Metals Group in Australia to create 240-tonne battery-electric mining haul trucks.

Electric processing becomes urgent

Electric processing equipment can be bought from Keestrack and others. It can be cable fed from your on-site wind and solar power with zero emissions. The global mining machinery market going electric may reach around US$36 billion by 2025. Comminution accounts for 56% of the mining sector’s total energy usage, making it a major polluter. The process represents 3% of the world’s generated electric power usage. Downstream, 70% of the carbon dioxide from cement making is the calcification reaction but alternatives are coming, and this is part of a move to mining new things in new places. Cement making and its allied activities are responsible for up to 10% of global warming if you include vehicles and machines from excavation to prefabricated concrete erection.

Autonomous mining vehicles

Some surface mining autonomy has started with over 100 Komatsu and Caterpillar giant dump trucks deployed, initially diesel but moving to electric. In late 2021, Komatsu was trialing a large autonomous water truck, based on its proven autonomous haulage system. The technology on this concept HD785-7 truck autonomously controls both the truck’s movement and water disbursement through the same platform.

Aerospace aspects of mining

Electrification is the only practicable way of carrying out seafloor mining and planned mining on the moon, Mars and asteroids, and – when it is known how to use it – desert sand. Graphenea thinks it has an answer. Battery-electric drones are already widely used in mining sites for surveillance and security. Of course, many mine sites are remote and need air connection and a new development here is battery-electric vertical takeoff aircraft that have a good range because they have wings and indeed, conventional winged aircraft that are battery-electric. About one hundred of the latter have been delivered and order books are around 1,000 mainly for fixed-wing. The cost of ownership is a fraction of conventional. The climb rate is faster. Enjoy extreme safety from multiple redundancy of powertrains, no flammable liquids or fuel supply chain, long glide in an emergency, and ballistic parachute. Just eliminating fuel supply chains is precious in mining.

Water-related mining becomes important

Remotely-operated battery-electric underwater vehicles are already used in surveying flooded mines and for the new seafloor mining. There is sand dredging and seashore cliff mining. However, with rising sea levels and seeking new reserves, more mining related activity will be located in or near to water. Next up, such mining will have the opportunity to make, store and sell electricity from that water. Open water river and ocean tidal power and wave power need no large structures. Such zero-emission equipment can be easily relocated. An example is the specially designed boat of Orbital Power Systems generating 2 MW while moored in Scotland and doing it with minimal intermittency. There are even forms of underwater energy storage to give delayed electricity.

Overall, mining is being electrified, relocated and redefined. Laggards beware.

The report can be purchased from Cambridge, U.K.-based IDTechEx.

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