How technology is making the mineral resources industry more sustainable
Minerals are the raw materials that drive the global economy. According to an infographic by the Minerals Education Coalition, every newborn in the USA will need a mere 3.20 million pounds (1,450 metric tonnes) of minerals, metals, and fuels in his/her lifetime. People often think of oil and gas in terms of energy sources, but let’s not forget that they are also essential raw materials for the petrochemical industry that supplies agriculture, pharmaceutical and consumer electronics industries. And that they are key ingredients for producing food, makeup, toiletries, cleaning agents, clothing, plastics, and synthetic materials that are in nearly everything we use.
Despite the use of recycled materials and the growth of renewable energy sources, demand for mined metals and fossil fuels will remain substantial for the next decades. According to the International Energy Agency, by 2050, natural gas use for power generation will grow an average of 1.5% per year, and oil derivates, gasoline, diesel and jet fuel will account for 80% of transport energy consumption. But – while balancing extraction cost and environmental impact – energy industries are increasingly investing in sustainable operations and eco-friendly alternatives.
Last week, global mining giant BHP gave a climate change briefing in which the company outlined how it will accelerate its actions in support of the Paris Agreement and announced a target to reduce operational greenhouse gas emissions by at least 30 percent by 2030. BP’s annual report on the future of energy, published a few days later, observes that while energy consumption shifts away from fossil fuels, renewables grow rapidly as the world continues to electrify – replacing oil by clean electricity from windfarms, solar panels and hydropower plants.
Already in 2017, a report published by the United Nations’ Industrial Development Organization concluded that “the sustainable energy transition and Industry 4.0 share important characteristics that can be interconnected to pursue a sustainable energy transition.”
In an older post on this Nokia blog, I wrote how digital technologies can help keep industry workers healthy and safe. Here are some examples of how mining and oil and gas companies may benefit from Industry 4.0 for becoming more sustainable:
- Electrification: mine operators are striving to become more energy efficient, be less diesel dependent, and run their business in a socially responsible way. Their energy transformation is happening through the introduction of electric vehicles, solar-powered infrastructure and battery storage.
In a recent study, EY reported on Newmont Goldcorp’s Borden mine, Canada’s first all-electric operation and the world’s first diesel free gold mine. Borden’s site electrification resulted in a 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a huge decrease in ventilation requirements.
- Automation: the introduction of autonomous haulage systems (AHS) can help improve safety, productivity and energy efficiency. With an average fuel consumption of 150 liters per truck per hour, diesel accounts for 12 to 16% of total operational costs. This number is largely influenced by operational practices, driver skills, mine design and mechanical conditions.
According to Nokia calculations, a self-driving haulage fleet could reduce fuel consumption by approximately 12.4 liters per hour and C02 emissions by 236 metric tonnes per vehicle – a volume that would need 3,540 trees to be sequestrated. As such, an average mine site with a production of 150 million tonnes per annum, an AHS fleet would reduce carbon outflow by more than 15,000 tonnes every year. This is the equivalent of 3,300 cars being taken off the road or 230,000 new trees to be planted – a forest the size of 2,600 soccer fields.
- Renewable energy: major oil companies are heavily investing in renewables, such as wind and solar. Incumbent fossil players like BP, Shell, Chevron, Total, ExxonMobil and Equinor have already pumped billions into clean energy projects. This transformation fits into a strategy for transforming themselves into energy companies – limiting exposure to the volatile fuel market, dealing with smaller oil and gas demand and addressing the emerging EV revolution.
At the same time, the rollout of offshore wind farms and the rapid growth of onshore distributed energy resources will also require new infrastructure, new capabilities and new skills – as well as a smarter grid that harnesses the power of information and communication technologies to monitor, control and optimize the usage of assets and systems.
- Environmental monitoring: a few weeks ago, Hurricane Laura made landfall across the coastlines of Texas and Louisiana, striking US oil and gas installations and leaving tens of thousands of residents without power. Nearly half of the oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico were evacuated and production was temporarily suspended. Also, more than 1,400 active oil wells were in Laura's path. But, as emergency responders were focused on search-and-rescue operations and other critical post-hurricane needs, spills and other damage could not be detected for days. As a matter of fact, the US federal government received 31 reports of oil and chemical spills connected to Hurricane Laura.
In the blog post I mentioned above, I introduced the concept of “situational awareness” – having 360° visibility of people, assets, infrastructure and environmental conditions. I firmly believe that the deployment of IoT sensors, video cameras and real-time data analytics to watch over platforms, pipelines and wells could have prevented a lot of the environmental harm caused by leaks and damaged infrastructure.
Well, all the above use cases require smart, robust and reliable networks to support continuous monitoring, real-time control and mission-critical communications. And that’s where Nokia comes in. We’re helping energy companies worldwide to transform their daily operations with Industry 4.0 technologies. To increase safety, productivity and efficiency. And we’re also empowering them to fulfill their green ambitions and meet their sustainability goals.
For more information about Nokia’s solutions for energy and resources, please visit our web page.