Enabling advanced energy management practice for minerals operations


Measures taken by mining companies around the world to reduce their carbon footprints are becoming increasingly important in the sector securing its social licence to operate. The options for measures reduce to three categories of activity:

i)                 demand reduction by avoiding unnecessary waste of supplied energy,

ii)                improving the utilization of energy that does have to be consumed and

iii)               adopting low carbon energy production options—including renewable energy.

As well as the environmental imperative, as the prices of electricity, gas and liquid fuels increase, so the  economic case for activities i) to iii) gains higher priority, especially in such an energy  intensive industry. The specific energy consumption for certain upstream minerals industry operations in Canada is reported to be as follows: underground mining: 99.5 kWh/tonne mined; surface mining: 11.7 kWh/tonne mined; base metal processing: 81.4 kWh/tonne milled; gold processing: 99.6 kWh/tonne milled. Around 508 kWh/tonne (slag) of heat is reported to be available in cooling slag from 1500°C to 25°C; an amount that is simply indicative of the energy intensity of downstream smelting and refining operations.

Low carbon, energy saving technology options that are available to mining industry companies lead to projects with return rates that  must compete alongside other capital intensive projects considered by mining company boards. Energy projects frequently involve longer payback periods and lower rates of return than those of competing bids for capital, such as those for development of new  mineral properties. For energy services companies (ESCOs) that specialize in the  financing, construction, and the efficient operation and maintenance of energy projects, the  same returns and payback periods may be considered acceptable or even attractive. For the ESCO, the key commercial risk mitigating factor is a securing a long term contract for the supply of energy.