Future-proof solutions for decarbonising power generation in mining operations

The mining industry is looking for ways to improve the carbon footprint of its operations today. Because mining operations are energy intensive, this represents a significant challenge, but decarbonisation is possible with a carefully planned approach.

The mining industry is looking for ways to improve the carbon footprint of its operations today. Because mining operations are energy intensive, this represents a significant challenge, but decarbonisation is possible with a carefully planned approach. With cooperation between the energy solution provider and the mining customer, sustainable and future-proof solutions are possible.  

Mining operations require huge supplies of energy in order to maintain uninterrupted production schedules. A reliable source of electricity is therefore essential, which is one more element within the complex issue of achieving the right balance between environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance and profitability.

The conversation regarding this balance is today more targeted and structured than ever, with an emphasis on clear actions within defined timeframes. Careful reviewing of the mine’s existing environmental impact and formulating concrete plans to lower CO2 emissions is becoming a front and center matter of discussion for mining companies.

A case-by-case approach to understanding and developing

Every mining facility’s situation is in some way different, and finding the appropriate solution varies from project to project and from country to country. “This is where Wärtsilä comes in,” says Jon Rodriguez, Energy Business Director, Engine Power Plants for Wärtsilä North America. “Our approach is to help mine owners and operators understand their current situation, and to jointly develop a reliable and tailored solution that finds a balanced path towards decarbonisation. The mining industry is geared to reach net zero and comply with the 2030 climate goals. But each situation needs to be studied individually, and our track record and experience has given us an excellent basis for doing that. Investors, financiers, and governments are these days very focused on the ESG performance of mining operations,” he says. “Mines are often isolated from the grid and need to provide their own power systems to ensure a reliable supply. This gives them the possibility and responsibility to decide for themselves the best and most appropriate way to promote sustainability for their mining operations. Close cooperation with a qualified provider can help in making this decision the right one. There is no “one size fits all” solution.

There are various options available for making a positive impact on carbon emissions. Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are increasingly being utilised, but they represent only part of the solution. Energy storage, efficient and flexible power generation, and future carbon-neutral fuels are other available solutions. Electrification of the mines is another significant area of focus as displacing diesel fueled vehicles and equipment with electrified versions can help reach the decarbonisation targets. This has  a large impact on the power system of the mine. Higher capacities will be needed, as well as ability to operate with varying loads and conditions. Impressive technology advances in software development have also been made in recent years. This is particularly important, since the key to coordinating and dispatching energy for mining microgrids relying on multiple sources of energy is complex software.

Our approach is to help mine owners and operators understand their current situation, and to jointly develop a reliable and tailored solution that finds a balanced path towards decarbonisation.

Jon Rodriguez

Towards power system optimisation and cleaner fuels

The mining industry is increasingly switching from conventional liquid fuels to cleaner gaseous fuels, such as liquefied natural gas (LNG). This has resulted in dramatic environmental benefits. Wärtsilä has also delivered a number of hybrid projects involving engines, renewables, and energy storage, all working together in concert to reduce CO2 and other emissions.

One such project is B2Gold’s Fekola mine in Africa. Here, Wärtsilä has installed 17 MW of energy storage and a state-of-the-art Energy Management System. This optimises the microgrid in conjunction with the mine’s existing thermal plant and a 30 MW solar power unit. “Mines using multiple sources of energy in this way have become increasingly commonplace,” explains Jon Rodriguez. “This is where the latest software technology, notably Wärtsilä’s GEMS platform, is needed to act effectively as the brain coordinating and controlling everything.”

The planning, design, and operation of a mining company’s sustainable power supply system has to take into consideration all factors affecting the load dynamics. Wind and solar power is inherently variable as it fluctuates constantly. System balancing is therefore essential to ensure a consistent and reliable supply of electricity. Furthermore, the aggregate demand for each site can depend on not only the mining activities, but also on such factors as the electrification of the facility’s trucks and mobile equipment.

Analysing, modelling and executing

Wärtsilä utilises its in-house expertise to analyse and comprehensively model proposed additions and solutions for achieving decarbonised energy production. Following a careful evaluation of all the relevant factors, the company determines on a case-by-case basis, the most practical solution for providing the right generating mix for each mining facility. It can be a combination of renewables, engines with the required flexibility, along with energy storage. Whatever the final decision, the goal is always to ensure adequate reliability and redundancy while, at the same time, achieving the necessary reduction in emissions at an acceptable cost.

Nothing comes easily though, and for many mining companies developing a decarbonisation strategy can be daunting. There is also inevitably some pushback from operators who need to understand and make any new system work. But here again, by helping companies to be fully aware of where they stand with regard to their environmental impact, and through the use of advanced modelling and simulation techniques, a way forward can be successfully planned and established.

“We use our technological know-how and experience to develop, together with the customer, a decarbonisation roadmap that makes sense for them, and which future-proofs their assets. Ensuring minimal disruption to the mine’s operations is always a major consideration,” says Jon Rodriguez. “Wärtsilä has several mining customers in North America that are seeing strong demand for their products. This has allowed several new mining ventures to move forward and make investments into brand new mines. We are also seeing existing customers extend the projected life of their mines, other executing expansion plans, as well as others performing upgrades to their existing facilities for higher output and efficiencies. It is an exciting time in the mining industry!”

Forward to the future with data and sustainable fuels

Along with the advanced modelling of power systems that Wärtsilä employs, data integration and the leveraging of that data is another fast-growing trend. Actionable data will undoubtedly enhance the mine’s decision-making procedures regarding asset utilisation. It will also enable maintenance activities to be scheduled and based on accurate predictive need, rather than on any set number of operating hours.

Alternative low or zero-carbon fuels will also play a future role on the journey towards decarbonisation, especially when they are derived from renewable energy sources. Hydrogen, ammonia, methane, and synthetic methane are among the future fuels being researched and developed by Wärtsilä for use in its engines. “At Wärtsilä we do more than simply adapt to the transition taking place in energy production. We are actively leading the way towards a 100 percent renewable energy future. Our extensive experience and impressive track record in delivering power generation solutions to mining operations around the world makes us uniquely positioned to help this industry in a way that promotes competitive, efficient, reliable, and sustainable operations,” Rodriguez concludes.

Written by

Wärtsilä
Wärtsilä