Why the Australian mining sector is taking the lead on decarbonisation and what that journey involves
The climate change challenge has prompted action across all industries the world-over, but Australian mining companies have shown true leadership with their commitments to achieving net zero emission.
“Australia is leading the charge on the sustainability front in mining, which is very exciting,” says Stuart Cowie, Head of ABB Australia’s Process Industries business. “We are seeing miners make strong commitments to the zero emissions target, for instance, FMG has brought forward their net zero target by ten years to achieve this by 2030. This greatly impacts decision-making around technology investment and modernisation.”
Recognised as a world-leading mining nation with a footprint in every corner of the globe, Australia is well-placed to lead the decarbonisation charge. And the industry has stepped up in this regard says CEO of Austmine, Christine Stewart Gibbs.
“The Australian mining industry is coming together in a seriously proactive way – there are several projects happening that illustrate the sector’s commitment to tackling this issue, and from multiple angles,” she explains. “For example, survey data from Austmine reveals that about 40 per cent of our members have already invested in renewables, and there are initiatives such as the Charge On Innovation Challenge, which seeks to electrify mining haul truck fleets. The willingness of the industry to collaborate is inspired and shows earnest leadership.”
Nik Gresshoff is encouraged by the innovation and progress he’s seeing in electrification and hydrogen technologies. He envisages a future mine that has embedded technologies for both.
“The challenge for mining companies now is to map out their own journey, and to weigh up the gains that can be achieved now through automation, along with the investment required to get to net zero,” says the Head of Mining for ABB Australia. “It’s an energising challenge.”
Nik recommends that mining companies first define what their carbon footprint is before embarking on the decarbonisation journey.
“It needs to start with a definition of what an organisation’s carbon footprint is, and what falls within their scope of decarbonisation. Are they focusing on direct and indirect emissions initially or including the whole supply chain from the outset?” he poses. “The next step is to examine the technology and what is currently possible to decarbonise. If companies graph this versus the benefit, the low hanging fruit should stand out – such as light commercial vehicles moving to electric.”
Elaborating on this second point, Nik says it would be prudent for mining companies to do a full asset analysis at their plant.
“Certain assets in a mine might be decades old, and to convert these could involve a huge capital expense,” he notes. “Having a clear understanding of where the company assets are in their life cycle is critical, as well as an understanding of what technology is available and what technology could fit with the current operation.”
Importantly, Nik says that miners wanting to decarbonise via electrification will need to review their entire electrical infrastructure. Questions around a site’s power requirements and the quality of its electrical grid system should be considered, as well as what green energy sources will become available.
While Nik believes the future mine will rely on a combination of green hydrogen power and electrification, he recommends that mining companies start changing out whatever diesel-powered vehicles and equipment they can with electric. This is where ABB’s expertise can prove invaluable to customers in this segment.
“The move to decarbonisation is not going to happen overnight, however, we’ve cemented our place as a leading electrification expert with solutions such as our battery charging systems, our trolley systems, and traction motors for heavy-duty mining trucks,” he says. “We are well-positioned to advise Australian mining companies on the electrical infrastructure required to make their electric transitions.”
Despite the challenges that the road to decarbonisation will bring to the fore, Nik notes the opportunities, and how ABB can help Australian mining companies identify and take advantage of those.
“As leaders in this field, ABB can assist mining companies in providing ideas on how they can reduce their electrical consumption on current assets, or how we could substitute equipment or componentry with a more sustainable option such as a permanent magnet on a conveying system,” he says. “There is a plethora of ways in which we can collaborate and assist Australian mining companies on this journey.”
ABB’s whitepaper, “The road to decarbonisation in Australian mining – How do we get to net zero?“ goes into further detail about what the journey to decarbonisation looks like for the Australian mining and resources industries, and what practical steps companies within the sector can take now to prepare.