Energising the efficiency drive

Energising the efficiency drive

Miners should see the global push towards decarbonisation as opportunity for improvement, not an additional burden, according to one of Europe’s most ambitious decarbonisation entrepreneurs.

The mining industry accounts for 5-7% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and is coming under increasing scrutiny from regulators, NGOs and investors to present its roadmap to net zero. This will necessarily involve the installation of an expensive renewable energy project, battery storage and new electrified fleet but, according to Irish industrial decarbonisation firm CoolPlanet founder Norman Crowley, Australian miners should be looking at decarbonisation from a saving, rather than expenditure perspective.

“When companies say: ‘Poor us, we have to decarbonise’, that is not the attitude they should be taking. The attitude should be; ‘look at the amount of money we’re going to save, this is insane’,” Crowley told Paydirt during a recent Australian visit.

“Industrial operations waste 70% of all the energy they consume, and miners are at the worst end of that, probably closer to 85% of the energy they consume is wasted.

“The minute you tell miners that, they respond in one of two ways; either ‘I bloody knew it!' or ‘No, not us’.”

For Crowley, the current decarbonisation strategy of miners of all sizes is back-to-front, they are investing in generation solutions before understanding exactly what their usage looks like.

“When we get the second response, we ask if we can look around the mine and we point out: ‘that’s waste, that’s waste, that’s waste, that’s waste’,” he said. “Basically, from the moment you start moving anything, you are wasting power, and that is even before you get to the processing plant.

“Most mine sites are generator-led and a generator is 70% inefficient to begin with. All that noise and heat, that’s all waste. Then, most miners have no idea how their generators are performing, whether they are oversized for the job. Then you’re wasting even more if you’re not tracking the amount of diesel and why you’re using it there.”

Instead of rushing to reduce fossil fuel usage then, CoolPlanet is urging miners to map their power usage first.

“We had a conversation this morning and the miner said: ‘We’re going to just put in solar and we’re going to generate loads of electricity and then it’ll all be green electricity and then it’ll all be fine’. We said: ‘You know you’re wasting most of the electricity you produce? So, why don’t you stop wasting that first, and then we’ll figure out what you can do with solar?'"

CoolPlanet has become increasingly adept at figuring out where waste occurs in industrial operations.

“It is all AI, but specifically machine learning, that is what our business is all about,” Crowley said. “The core thing we have is our software platform which tracks and analyses all your energy data in real-time. Using our software, we look at a set of numbers and you can see opportunity in those numbers. Then you use the technology of the software to automate that process. We can see the data coming through, automate that and save somebody a fortune.

“A recent example of that power of AI comes from a meat producer in France. We went into one of their factories, got hold of the data and we decarbonised that factory by 80% in six weeks.”

CoolPlanet and the exclusive licensee in Australia, Sydney-based partner Climatech Zero (led by amaysim co-founder Peter O’Connell), are now ready to apply that experience to Australian mining.

Crowley’s trip was an eye-opener to the opportunities on offer.

“It is easy for us because we’ve done it before in other industries but it is also hard in mining because it is complicated,” he said. “Every industry has a silver bullet when it comes to energy waste. In mining, we think it could be making motors more efficient. The good news is, that is cheap, it’s been done for years, and so there’s no risk.

“But we are starting to realise other opportunities. For instance, when we started it was all about making the mine more efficient with renewables, but we didn’t realise 50% of carbon in mining is moving equipment.

“We already have an engineering division called Mobility which makes electric vehicles. The mining guys came to us and asked if we’d electrify a truck for them because they couldn’t buy an electric Toyota for years. We thought that was crazy. So, we electrified a Landcruiser and went to Toyota and asked if they would work with us on this and lo and behold they did.

“But it’s not only about the electrifying of it. When we then went to a mine site, we found a mine spec Landcruiser is $300,000 and the average life span is only three years. So, we said why don’t we control the speed in it much better, why don’t we make it automatically stop if there’s a miner near it and why don’t we make it so sexy they’ll want to drive it safely.

“That programme has taken three years to build out. And we are now starting to show it off. In talking to miners, they really engaged with the concept.”

Together with Climatech and its other international partners, CoolPlanet has an army of engineers it can call on to take up similar projects.

In addition, it offers financing for energy projects.

"We have financing all over the world, in Q4 last year we did $100 million in financing, that’s from all the usual suspects; BlackRock, Macquarie, etc. And we can do that off balance sheet as well, so it is not on the mine’s balance sheet because it is paid out of the savings,” Crowley said.

"When you explain it, people ask: ‘What’s the catch?’ There isn’t actually one, other than that we will save you the money. We will take the risk on saving you the money and we will arrange the finance. The only catch is for us, if the mine has to shut down, then there’s no more savings.”

With sensors and monitors on every piece of equipment, miners are producing more data than ever before. Crowley is eager to put that data under the scrutiny of CoolPlanet’s software.

“A company has all the mining data coming through and if you marry their ability to gather the data with our ability to summarise it - and use AI with it - we know we can decarbonise this mine by 40%, just because of the data we have,” he said.

While he is an advocate for decarbonisation, Crowley sympathises with miners, particular junior and mid-tier players, who are still struggling to define their path to net zero.

“The other thing about decarbonisation is it’s extremely complicated and I think that’s why miners, in the beginning, are struggling to understand it,” he said. “We get frustrated because there’s so much greenwashing and bullshit, nobody talks plain about just what needs to happen.

“It is tough. You have to electrify your fleet, deploy green energy, make sure your supply chain is buying green, then you have to do carbon accounting, power purchase agreements for solar, etc, that’s all complicated. You have to make your own site efficient, that’s complicated. But, because we’ve been doing this for so long, we now have experts in all these fields to provide the solutions.”

If miners can unlock the latent energy efficiencies in their operations, they will likely find the capital to justify further green initiatives, according to Crowley.

“By the time you’ve done all the efficiency stuff, you’ve saved yourself a fortune and you can afford to maybe spend a bit on the loss-leading project that you shouldn’t be spending on in the beginning,” he said.

“Bring the demand down and then do solar and battery, you’re off-grid, and your opex is so low, and also you have these paybacks.

“If you do those two things well, your operating costs are a quarter of your competitor. You see the clever guys doing that first and in the meetings we’ve had on this trip, you can spot the guys who see it. You also meet the others, who think it’s all some greenwashing bullshit, but that’s okay, but they’ll suffer.”