A report released today shines a light on the global mining industry’s energy usage, illuminating where energy is consumed and linking it with opportunities and pathways to decarbonise.
The report analyses mine energy use from over 40 published studies, centred on five commodities – copper, gold, iron ore, nickel and lithium. For these five metals, it finds comminution – the crushing and grinding of rocks – alone accounts for 25 per cent of final energy consumption at an ‘average’ mine site. Extended across all hard rock mining, this is equivalent to up to 1 per cent of total final energy consumption globally.
The report reconfirms comminution as a key target for energy and emissions reduction efforts, which aligns with the mission of the Coalition for Energy Efficient Comminution (CEEC), a global initiative to accelerate eco-efficient minerals, with a focus on energy-efficient comminution.
Previous findings by CEEC indicate that up to 3 per cent of global electrical energy is used in comminution when taking into account all mined commodities, quarrying and cement production.
In addition to just optimising comminution, the report also highlights other opportunities to decarbonise such as the redesign of grinding circuits at greenfield sites, improved drill and blast approaches, preconcentration, and the use of acritical intelligence and machine learning to improve decision-making.
The report emphasises the mining industry’s crucial role in supporting the transition to net-zero emissions, needed to limit global temperatures in line with the Paris Agreement.
This includes more efficient and sustainable technologies if the industry is to meet the challenge of decarbonisation.
Despite the scale of the challenge, the report underlines that small improvements in existing mines can lead to large savings in both energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Report author Marc Allen states a 5 per cent incremental improvement in energy efficiency across comminution could result in GHG emission reductions of more than 30 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).
“A relatively modest 5 per cent improvement in comminution, across the industry, may result in emissions reductions close to the total emissions for New Zealand (35 Mt CO2-e),” he said.
“A more robust energy audit process and implementation of low-cost opportunities across a mine and process plant may result in total energy savings of up to 10-15 per cent and overall emissions reductions of over 200 Mt of CO2-e/a, depending on the source of electricity.”
“Large-scale introduction of renewable energy provides the potential to reduce emissions significantly in the industry – hundreds of millions of tonnes of GHG savings when there is widespread adoption of renewable energy and energy storage.”
CEEC CEO, Alison Keogh, urged industry to collaborate to accelerate decarbonisation steps.
“More open knowledge sharing helps speed installations of renewables and energy-efficient approaches across all of industry. Benefits also include increased productivity, shareholder value, and financing as companies demonstrate performance towards net-zero emissions sooner,” Ms Keogh said.
She cited three key collaboration actions vital to success: 1) sharing best practices, to ensure existing mines and processing plants are better informed and take actions earlier to become more energy and water efficient; 2) sharing new technologies, designs and innovations; and 3) supporting testwork and pilots of novel technology on sites and at increasing scales.
Ms Keogh called for greater industry dialogue, noting the report highlights both a challenge and an opportunity to revitalise cross-industry discussion and actions to decarbonise and introduce ESG solutions.
“We invite industry leaders to actively contribute and collaborate through mining-vendor-research partnerships and share knowledge, site case studies and net-zero plans via independent organisations such as CEEC. Together, we can accelerate improved energy, emissions and water footprint across industry faster.”
The independent Mining Energy Consumption 2021 report, commissioned by the Weir Group, can be found here.