In the journey towards decarbonisation, the South African mining sector is taking its first steps toward renewable self-generation; what will need to follow is a more systematic and integrated approach that addresses the whole mining supply chain.
This was one of the messages from Professor Michael Solomon, at the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM) webinar on ‘Decarbonizing the Mining Sector by 2040.’
“Decarbonization is often simplistically interpreted as being about renewable energy and the use of fossil fuels, but it is far more complex than that,” he said. Adding that many of the mines’ renewable energy projects are driven by sheer economics, given the rising cost of grid electricity.
“Mines need to look holistically at their operations and value chains, as there are many opportunities within therein, including partnering with suppliers to build a more far-reaching decarbonisation strategy. The hydrogen economy is also likely to play an important role,” said Ashleigh Maritz, Principal Environmental Scientist at SRK Consulting.
It’s worth noting that in the manufacturing of each ton of hydrogen, some eight tons of oxygen are produced – which could be used for other purposes. While it is currently more costly to produce synthetic diesel as compared to sourcing fossil fuel diesel, the impact of carbon tax may change this equation.
Professor Solomon also highlighted that decarbonisation strategies must contribute to a just energy transition, by empowering and equipping vulnerable communities for the future.
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Also in the webinar was Marcin Wertz, Partner and Principal Mining Engineer at SRK Consulting, who picked up on the need for a broader approach and not just on-mine initiatives.
“When considering opportunities to pursue a decarbonisation agenda, it is also worth looking beyond the mine’s boundaries to the communities,” said Wertz.
“In addition to the key step of mines going off the grid, other avenues include electric mobility and hydrogen-powered heavy mining equipment. There are also opportunities in the circular economy, green explosives and waste-to-energy,” he said.
Exciting developments are therefore afoot for mines which are planning to generate their own renewable energy, according to Professor Solomon. He said 29 mining companies were undertaking 89 energy projects with a promise to generate 6.5 GW of solar, wind and biomass energy, as well as battery storage.
SRK Partner and Principal Consultant, Andrew van Zyl argued that there are considerable spin-off benefits from the introduction of renewable energy technology in mining areas – many of which were rural and remote.
“There is now a channel being created for other stakeholders such as communities to embrace this technology. It should be remembered that South Africa faces the pressure not only to decarbonise, but to steadily generate more energy than is currently available,” said Van Zyl, a member of the SAIMM ESGS committee.