Cleanly Powering the Mines

Electrification and green solutions drive a new era of innovation

With Québec’s ambitious plans to position itself as a leading jurisdiction for environmentally responsible mine development, and with increased pressure on mining companies from shareholders to prioritize lower carbon alternatives to diesel, a number of technically advanced products have entered the market that will enable a seamless transition.

Distributed Gas Solutions Canada (DGSC) has been working to develop turnkey solutions of compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquified natural gas (LNG) to supply the industrial, mining and transportation markets. The company achieves this by taking natural gas from the pipeline or from flared or abandoned wells to produce CNG or LNG. DGSC is now nearing completion of its first CNG station in the Saguenay region in the town of Chicoutimi, where it has entered into a partnership to create Energie Tergasa with two local companies, Groupe Alfred Boivin, a local construction and transportation company, and RL Energies, a local distributor of fuels. Upon commissioning of the CNG Station, DGSC expects to begin fueling trucks with CNG in fall of 2021.

These developments should have important implications for the mining industry, because Federal Government programs will provide financial incentives for companies to consume fuels with lower carbon intensity in the years ahead, and natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel.

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“With the change to electric equipment comes challenges, such as adjusting the electrical grid, handling of batteries and considering the use of equipment to optimize for efficient battery runtime, to name a few. We see electrification increasing the collaboration between mining companies and OEMs as well as bringing standardization with charging solutions, mine design and safety procedures.”

Jason Smith, Integration Manager, North America, Epiroc

With Québec’s ambitious plans to position itself as a leading jurisdiction for environmentally responsible mine development, and with increased pressure on mining companies from shareholders to prioritize lower carbon alternatives to diesel, a number of technically advanced products have entered the market that will enable a seamless transition.

Distributed Gas Solutions Canada (DGSC) has been working to develop turnkey solutions of compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquified natural gas (LNG) to supply the industrial, mining and transportation markets. The company achieves this by taking natural gas from the pipeline or from flared or abandoned wells to produce CNG or LNG. DGSC is now nearing completion of its first CNG station in the Saguenay region in the town of Chicoutimi, where it has entered into a partnership to create Energie Tergasa with two local companies, Groupe Alfred Boivin, a local construction and transportation company, and RL Energies, a local distributor of fuels. Upon commissioning of the CNG Station, DGSC expects to begin fueling trucks with CNG in fall of 2021.

These developments should have important implications for the mining industry, because Federal Government programs will provide financial incentives for companies to consume fuels with lower carbon intensity in the years ahead, and natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel.

There are complications, however, because as Andrew Wilkins, vice president of business development and marketing at DGSC pointed out: “90% of Canada's population lives within 100 km of the US border, and a majority of mining operations are not served by the natural gas distribution network.”

The remoteness of many mines makes them difficult to get to, and there is often little or no infrastructure. The fuel requirements in remote areas of Canada for industrial and mining equipment are significant, whether it is heavy fuel oil (HFO), diesel or propane, but DGSC is able to offer an 18 to 30% reduction in carbon intensity at the point of combustion, depending on which fuel it is displacing. “We can see the macroeconomic landscape for fuels in Canada being driven by the Liberal government's National Carbon Tax and Clean Fuel Standard, and we see the Conservatives committing to the same GHG reduction objectives by 2030 using an alternate Carbon Tax program,” said Wilkins.

Rouyn-Noranda based Adria Power Systems is another company devoted to helping facilitate the mining industry’s transition to lower carbon. Adria started to work with charging systems for mining machinery, and developed a new charging infrastructure that offers good performance, with good quality signal. “A lot of testing has been done in the last couple of years, but some of the chargers available in the industry, generate a lot of harmonics and distortion on the infrastructure of the customer,” Adria Power Systems president and CEO, Jean-Francois Couillard detailed. “If it is only one charger in the mine infrastructure the problem is barely noticeable, but if you scale that up to 50 or 100 units, then all these harmonics add up to create reliability issues, as well as a higher cost of power consumption”.

The advantage of Adria’s new system is that it offers strong performance, good efficiency, and a clean signal. Their one-megawatt bi-directional system charger with multiple bridgeable outputs is a first in the mining industry, and it will be put to the test in collaboration with Nouveau Monde Graphite at the Matawinie mine. “In five to 10 years, the concept of an all-electric mine will not be that much of a big deal in the sense that the charging support will have to be integrated normally into the operation rather than as a specialized piece of equipment,” Couillard forecasted.

ESG principles do not only apply to transportation and equipment. Companies like Newmont are actively looking at alternative processing technologies, as pressure mounts around the use and release of chemicals such as cyanide. Compounding this problem is the fact that the industry is turning to deposits with greater arsenic concentrations, which require specific treatment approaches and a permanent arsenic fixation process. That is where Dundee Sustainable Technologies (DST) comes in. DST works with advanced developers and operators to find a cyanide-free alternative that can be beneficial. Describing its CLEVR process, DST executive vice president Jean-Philippe Mai explained: “Our process operates in a fully closed loop, which means there is no liquid effluent, contact time is one to two hours as opposed to 36-48 hours, and we operate in ambient temperature and pressure, so there are no exotic metals or materials required… With a focus on regenerating the active reagents, sodium hypochlorite in the case of CLEVR, and operating in a fully closed loop eliminates the need for tailings ponds and the liabilities and environmental risk associated with them.”

Opportunity encourages consolidation

With all the excitement surrounding innovation in Québec it is understandable that synergies will be discovered and companies will push for a stronger foothold in the province. This was the case when it came to Epiroc’s acquisition of Meglab in March of 2021.

Meglab had been bringing ideas and integrating new technology and solutions for an electric, connected, digital and automated mine for many years, and its deep presence designing innovative solutions and manufacturing equipment in its factories in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, made Meglab a particularly attractive partner for Epiroc.

Kim Valade, general manager of Meglab highlighted that the deal came together because for several years both teams worked together on a variety of projects. “Over time we built a good relationship and trust between our people,” Valade said.

The discussion about the acquisition started, about a year prior when the Meglab team offered installation and maintenance services for Epiroc equipment at the mine site. Today, these machines need to be electric, so they need the infrastructure, and people on site to program, and provide technical service. “During our discussions with Epiroc, the synergies and possibilities to go further in the solutions offered became clear. Their intention was also to grow Meglab as a standalone brand, so it was going in the same direction that we wanted,” affirmed Valade.

From Epiroc’s perspective it is committed to the region as evinced by its earlier acquisition of Fordia, a drilling solutions provider, but now with Meglab, Epiroc see much more potential to expand in Québec. “Meglab gives us brand agnostic ability to design, build and connect the infrastructure required for mines to convert to electrification and ‘battery-fication’. This acquisition allows us to accelerate the pace of innovation and helps us transition technology seamlessly across our existing and future offerings,” said Jason Smith, integration manager, North America at Epiroc.

Images courtesy of Nouveau Monde Graphite