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Perspective

Mining’s Advancement Towards a Clean Energy Future

Mining’s Advancement Towards a Clean Energy Future

By Jim Spenceley, senior vice president with Black & Veatch’s mining business, and Victoria Gosteva, strategy & business development director with Black & Veatch’s mining business

The momentum of many industries advancing towards net-carbon neutrality is unstoppable. The focus on clean energy technologies today is led by the global drive for decarbonization, underpinned by the UN Paris Climate Agreement, where 189 countries committed to limit global warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels through economic and social adaptation.

For the energy-intensive mining industry, decarbonization efforts and planning for a clean energy future have become imperative. Stakeholders require commitment and action to decarbonize, and mining executives all agree that addressing climate change remains a top priority and is central to their license to operate.

This journey towards decarbonization is illustrated by the acceleration by major miners to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and not only to meet mid-term targets, but to achieve carbon neutrality for 100 percent of their portfolio by 2050 or sooner. In an effort to meet these targets, some major miners have committed to making significant financial investments: Vale’s commitment of at least $2 billion in initiatives to reduce the company's carbon emissions by 33 percent by 2030 is said to be “the largest ever committed by the mining industry to combat climate change,” and Newmont announced a $500 million commitment over the next five years towards clean energy projects.

The journey is not solely the responsibility of the major miners. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and Engineering, Procurement and Construction Management (EPCM) integrators are also contributing to a clean energy future through R&D and technological advancements and by a commitment to exit the coal power market.

In 2020, several industry heavyweights announced their departure from the coal market: General Electric announced its exit from the new-build coal power market on day one of Climate Week NYC. Six weeks later, Toshiba (construction) and Siemens (turbines) each announced their exits from the new coal-fired plant market.

Black & Veatch also announced an exit from the coal power market in 2020 in support of accelerating the path to net zero: “The transition away from any coal-related activity is about our commitment as a company to sustainability and accelerating our efforts to lead the emerging carbon-free energy future,” said Steve Edwards, CEO of Black & Veatch.

How does an industry—massive in scale, scope and highly complex in mine-life planning, including integration with multiple industry OEMs and project delivery partners—make such sweeping changes in less than a typical lifespan of a world-class asset? How do you optimize your decarbonization road-mapping and evaluate competing conventional and emerging technologies that lead to carbon neutrality while still meeting the requirements of a sound business case?

Emerging themes: Commitments and Pathways to Decarbonization

At the Energy and Mines Virtual World Congress in December 2020, common themes emerged in mining companies’ GHG emission reduction targets, approaches and roadmaps. Central to these discussions were mid-term targets of one-third reduction by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050, achieved by focusing on renewable energy integration, mobile equipment electrification and operational efficiencies, including digitization and data analytics.

Renewable energy (RE) has primarily been taking the form of new green Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) for grid-connected mines and dedicated RE site installations for remote mines, with battery energy storage systems becoming more prevalent. Repowering to cleaner energy sources is another common solution for achieving mid-term GHG reduction targets. Mine mobile equipment electrification (including hydrogen power) targeting the diesel GHG emissions is a more challenging area, especially for large surface mining equipment.

While renewable/clean energy solutions are deployable now, technology for large mining equipment and heavy transport equipment is still developing. Supporting these developments and the evolution of an industry is the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), a global organization dedicated to a safe, fair and sustainable mining and metals industry that brings together members representing 27 of the world’s major mining houses that contribute to a significant share of the total metal production. Their Innovation for Cleaner, Safer Vehicles (ICSV) initiative, a collaborative effort by its membership of global mining leaders and OEMs, aims to accelerate investment, innovation and the scaling of GHG emission-free mining vehicles. 

The challenges of finding the right solutions for electrifying a mine’s mobile equipment fleet go beyond OEM readiness and require evaluating the need for additional electrical capacity, installing electric or hydrogen charging infrastructure. Further, solutions will require innovative ways of collaborating and combining resources between miners, OEMs and EPCM integrators with diligent business case assessments, piloting programs, as well as significant mobile equipment and infrastructure investments.

An approach involving staging RE and electrification energy infrastructure solutions in correlation with the mine and existing equipment life cycle, and scaling up pilot projects, while keeping an eye on the ultimate carbon reduction goals, will require the rigour and attention that mine development and management have not previously seen.

Black and Veatch: Recognized Global EPCM Leader in Clean Energy Technology Solutions

With pressure mounting across all sectors of the economy to reduce GHG emissions, it is imperative that knowledge and best practices be shared across industries. Capacity constraints may develop for the resources available to plan, design and build the infrastructure required to reach the emission reduction goals. Owners, OEMs and EPCM integrators must innovate and collaborate to position for success.

Black and Veatch has decades of delivering first-of-a-kind innovations and technologies safely and reliably across the power, oil and gas, environmental and advanced transportation sectors. Named in Solar Power World’s Top 10 Solar Contractors list, together with our partners, we have been involved in more than half of the utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) projects in North America, executing over 1,500 megawatts (MWac) of solar PV engineering, procurement and construction projects since 2016.

From a project like deploying more than 1,000 electric vehicle (EV) charging sites across the US, to pioneering the regasification system for the world’s first barge-based Floating Liquid Natural Gas (FLNG) regasification and storage unit in Nantong, China, to providing engineering and technical services for the first hydrogen power generation conversion project in the U.S., our global talent provides comprehensive planning, siting, design and construction services for all types of renewable, natural gas and alternative resource development projects.

As recent members of the Hydrogen Council, a CEO-led initiative, Black and Veatch will share knowledge and collaborate with global partners, with the goal of making hydrogen a core component of a zero-carbon global economy and continue to develop, design and construct hydrogen solutions—from delivering green hydrogen for power generation, storage and advanced transportation solutions, to processing blue hydrogen with carbon capture technology.

Black and Veatch is taking decisive and measured action towards our own environmental stewardship. Accelerate 0, our 2020–2023 Sustainability Strategy, will guide the management and reduction of our carbon footprint and a target of net zero GHG emissions by 2025. We are proud to align our efforts with 12 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and have become signatories of two additional UN pledges that form the core of our sustainability agenda, Caring for Climate and CEO Water Mandate.

 

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