on March 10th, 2020

Reducing emissions in the mining sector is one of the key focuses for mining companies globally. The recent bushfire events in Australia have sparked conversation around how greatly fossil fuel emissions have affected climate change. The changing climate, experts say, is one of the reasons for the recent bushfire crisis that impacted the entire country.

Consequently, Rio Tinto will be spending US$98 million on a new solar plant at their US$2.6 billion Koodaideri iron ore mine in Western Australia. There will be extra expenditure for a battery energy system for the entire Pilbara power network, too.

The solar photovoltaic plant will generate 34 megawatts and will supply the brunt of Koodaideri's electricity demand during peak operation times. The solar facility will see 100,000 panels absorbing the sun during the day, with the 12MWh battery storage system charging up.

The solar plant will be fully in-service by 2021 - the year the mine becomes active too. Rio Tinto Iron Ore CEO Chris Salisbury told media, "The construction of our first solar plant in Pilbara is a significant milestone for the business and an important step in reducing our carbon footprint in the region. We are investigating additional renewable energy options in the Pilbara, as well as other opportunities to reduce emissions across our entire global portfolio, building on the 43% reduction in absolute greenhouse gas emissions since 2008."

Rio Tinto has been investing in solar photovoltaic setups with energy partners in Queensland, but the Koodaideri mine setup will one hundred percent owned by the company. They are working in tandem with the Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority to see where else they can decarbonize their mining operations.

They are contemplating wind projects, and further lithium-ion battery projects that can drive their carbon footprint down. Australian mining companies have been opting to build solar-gas hybrid power generation microgrids that power their operations. Mining companies are trying to meet the target of having 50% of the industry powered by renewables as soon as possible.

Juwi, a German company specializing in wind and solar energy, is trying to get more renewable energy into mines. It is hoping that one day mines might be powered by 100% renewable energy.

Dave Manning, juwi's global head of hybrid, told ESI-Africa, "Mines are most interested in solutions that can reduce costs and carbon emissions. The most advanced options to deliver this are hybrid systems that integrate solar, wind and batteries with diesel, gas or heavy fuel oil generators, without compromising reliability or power quality. We are already starting to see mines transition to fully electric operations, as there are multiple benefits. The economics of a 100% renewable energy site is almost there, and with the introduction of hydrogen, we are almost certainly going to see 100% renewable energy-powered operations in the near future."


Training engineers in renewables

Getting engineers trained up for the complexities of technological changes within the industry is what the Engineering Institute of Technology (EIT) is all about. As companies move away from fossil fuels, the electrical engineering industry continues to be transformed.

Renewable energy technologies are a specialist area that is forming a critical part of the industry's future. To understand the complexities of renewable energy systems, engineers who trained over a decade ago may need to upskill.

EIT delivers a live and interactive online Australian accredited 52764WA - Graduate Certificate in Renewable Energy Technologies. This program will equip you with the advanced skills and knowledge in the latest advanced technologies in power generation. Renewable energy is only becoming more critical in the mining industry, and therefore, mastering renewables is in the best interest of the 21st-century engineering student. Even working engineers can become proficient in these technologies by undertaking such courses.

EIT also delivers practical online programs in electrical engineering, and in electrical and instrumentation (E&I) engineering in the mining industry.


Works Cited

Batten, Kristie. "Rio Tinto to Build US$100M Solar Power Plant." Mining Journal, 17 Feb. 2020, www.mining-journal.com/sustainability/news/1381112/rio-tinto-to-build-ususd100m-solar-power-plant.

Zyl, Nicolette Pombo-van. "Key Renewable Energy Trends Have Proven to Power Mining." ESI, 4 Feb. 2020, www.esi-africa.com/industry-sectors/future-energy/key-renewable-energy-trends-have-proven-to-power-mining/.

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