All electric mine of the future

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Climate change affects every country and does not respect national borders, yet the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change continue to rise. Global emissions of carbon have increased by almost 50 per cent since 1990 and grew more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than in each of the three previous decades. Climate change can disrupt national economies and affect lives, with the poorest and most vulnerable people being affected the most. All ICMM members implement the 10 principles and related position statements that underpin our Sustainable Development Framework. ICMM’s position statement on climate change commits member companies to being part of the solution.

When the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) officially came into force in January 2016, the nations of the world committed to mobilise efforts to end poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change. Business has a significant part to play, alongside governments and civil society, in creating pathways for a greener, safer and sustainable future for us all. Metals and minerals are essential to almost all aspects of everyday life; they enable farming, healthcare, communications, construction, transport and energy and water supply. And they will arguably become more important as they help to deliver the infrastructure required for a low-carbon future. This is one of a series of case studies gathered from our members to highlight how companies are working to enhance their contribution to society and help industry to manage potential adverse impacts their activities may have on the realisation of some of the SDGs.

Canadian mining company Goldcorp is planning to build Canada’s first fully electric underground mine at its Borden Lake project near Chapleau in Ontario. Once production starts in the second half of 2019, this gold mine will be one of only a handful of mines world-wide using an all-electric mobile equipment fleet to be powered entirely using electricity, instead of fossil fuels such as diesel. In addition to greatly reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the transition to electric power will make the mine more operationally efficient and significantly improve health and safety performance. 

Tackling climate change through innovation

With increasing concern over the impacts of climate change, rising energy costs and the introduction of GHG regulation in many jurisdictions, some mining companies are introducing new and innovative measures to reduce their energy use and GHG emissions. One of the most ambitious initiatives in the Canadian mining sector is Goldcorp’s plan to build the country’s first fully electric underground mine, including the first electric mobile equipment fleet, at its Borden Lake gold project in Ontario, starting in 2017.

Energy efficiency and GHG emissions are major issues for the mining industry. Mining is highly energy intensive, particularly in the case of underground mines, which not only use large quantities of energy to transport ore and crush rock (‘comminution’), but also require energy-intensive ventilation and heating systems.

Companies are increasingly aware that to secure their long-term success in a competitive and energy intensive industry, they must be able to access affordable and reliable energy sources. In addition, they must also respond to increasing regulation and societal expectations that they take action on climate change.

A commitment to supporting the Sustainable Development Goals

Goldcorp has made a public commitment to taking action in support of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly those SDGs most relevant to its business. In line with its commitment to SDG 7 (‘Affordable and Clean Energy’) and SDG 13 (‘Climate Action’), the Borden Lake project reflects the company’s strategy of not only managing energy and carbon-related risks, but also finding opportunities.

Under its Energy Stewardship Strategy, introduced in 2012, Goldcorp committed to take progressive steps to manage its energy use and reduce emissions, and to incorporate these considerations into all operational decisions. It set five-year targets of increasing energy efficiency by 15 per cent, reducing GHG emissions by 20 per cent, and sourcing 5 per cent of energy from renewables.

Goldcorp’s overall aim is to ‘create a culture and standard that considers climate change as an integral part of doing business’. The Energy Stewardship Strategy is particularly important for Goldcorp’s operations in Ontario, which are subject to the provincial government’s cap and trade emissions scheme.

To help realise its plan of building Canada’s first all-electric ‘mine of the future’, Goldcorp is teaming up with technology leaders Sandvik Mining and MacLean Engineering to provide a suite of new innovative technologies that will power all aspects of the mine’s operation. These range from battery-powered underground vehicles, drilling and blasting equipment, to electric bolters and personnel carriers.

A 40 metric tonne battery-powered haul truck, which will eliminate all GHGs associated with the movement of ore and waste rock, is nearing commercial production. The company predicts that this will translate into a 50 per cent reduction in the estimated GHG emissions associated with these activities (equivalent to 5,000 tonnes of CO2 per year) in a mine of a similar size.

Environmental and economic benefits

Although it will require more upfront capital cost when compared to a ‘conventional’ mine, the new technology to be used in Borden will also reduce operating costs and improve health and safety performance.

Borden will be equipped with a variety of digital and smart controls, such as tele-remote systems that will maximise equipment use and enable continuous mining. For example, the use of an efficient on-demand ‘smart’ ventilation system, means that there will be a 50 per cent reduction in ventilation requirements. This also translates into reduced maintenance and energy costs.

The reductions associated with the use of clean technology and the move away from diesel has the potential to reduce the site’s overall emissions by 7,500 tons of CO2 and avoid the use of three million litres of diesel, one million litres of propane and 35,000 megawatt hours of electricity each year. 

The use of GHG intensive fossil fuels in Ontario’s energy mix is also minimal. This means that the electricity used by Borden comes from low GHG emission sources. Renewable energy from biomass may also be used for heating.

Health and safety benefits

The Borden mine will also make an important contribution to Goldcorp’s efforts in support of the workplace health and safety focus areas of SDG 3 (‘Good Health and Well-Being’). A major consideration in planning the mine has been the health and safety benefits of using clean energy, and specifically, creating a safer place for employees to work.

The use of electric vehicles will improve underground air quality. It also means there is reduced need for a large, noisy ventilation system, which will make the work environment quieter and safer. Another benefit of electric power is that it virtually removes the need for compressed air pumps, gasses and other equipment, thereby eliminating another common source of injury.

Leading by innovation

 “At Goldcorp, one of our core values is to embrace innovation. Mines are large consumers of energy. As much as 15% of site operating costs come from consumption of electricity, diesel, propane and natural gas so focusing innovation efforts toward a big cost driver makes obvious business sense. Electrifying Borden means more upfront capital cost, however with the additional benefits to health, safety, and environmental performance, there is an even stronger business case to proceed with this ambitious mine design.” - Brent Bergeron, Goldcorp’s Executive Vice President, Corporate Affairs and Sustainability.

By taking the lead in designing this mine of the future, Goldcorp hopes to set an example of innovation in energy efficiency that may be adopted by other mining companies. It also hopes to demonstrate that the use of clean technologies not only improves environmental and health and safety performance, but can also yield economic returns and increase asset value.

ICMM members supporting the SDGs