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Firm provides tech solutions to power a greener Mining 4.0

An image of an individual scooping rare earth minerals

RARE EARTHS Vast quantities of raw materials and commodities will be consumed to create the necessary infrastructure

26th August 2022

     

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As countries around the world pledge to achieve net-zero targets over the coming years, it’s not only governments and energy companies that will be put under pressure to deliver, says Nokia mining and natural resources strategic marketing director Marc Jadoul.

He cites a recent McKinsey & Company study in declaring “the transition to a net-zero economy will be metal-intensive” as it is going to depend on the timely construction and expansion of new sustainable power generation facilities to meet the energy needs of everyone on the planet.

Consequently, the mining industry is becoming a key enabler of the sustainable energy revolution. “Vast quantities of raw materials and commodities such as steel and copper will be consumed to create the necessary infrastructures to generate and distribute solar, wind, geothermal and hydrogen energy. The construction of a single 3 MW wind turbine, for example requires 335 t of steel, 4.7 t of copper, 3 t of aluminium, 1 200 t of concrete, and two tonnes each of rare-earth elements, zinc and molybdenum.”

Jadoul says the revolution is also going to require a ramp-up in the extraction of rare earth minerals. Fuel cell and electric vehicle battery production rely heavily on nickel, lithium and cobalt. “Lithium is one of the most critical elements in the transition to a low-carbon economy and demand is expected to increase almost 50% by next year, while mines could see demand for cobalt rising by 15% through 2030.”

Citing the Economist, he notes that this demand could soon outstrip supply, which may stall the world’s decarbonisation plans. “To meet the needs of a swiftly changing energy sector, it’s time that investments are made to ensure that the mining industry assists the sustainable energy revolution and doesn’t act as a blocker.”

He suggests that mining companies focus on digital transformation, which will give them access to Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) capabilities that will enable new levels of productivity and efficiency. “This needs to be done with a clear focus on sustainability and safety.”

Digital Transformations Require Reliable Connectivity

The digital transformation of mines, or Mining 4.0, will allow companies to access and manipulate operational data using analytics to enhance productivity, sustainability and safety. Jadoul says it will enable capabilities such as autonomous operations and process efficiencies, while real-time monitoring and enhanced asset control will prolong equipment life and reduce costs and downtime.

He points to a 2021 Industrial Development Corporation information brief, which notes that “network infrastructure provides the foundation on which to develop smart operations. The infrastructure enables the collection and transfer of data to provide business-critical insights”.

As such, a robust, reliable and secure network is needed to connect assets on a large scale, one that is flexible enough to enable autonomous vehicles and equipment with the greatest mobility. “Traditional Wi-Fi isn’t going to cut it at this scale – there are many opportunities for the signal to be impeded causing connectivity hiccups that potentially impact on safety.”

Jadoul says that private fourth-generation/long-term evolution (4G/LTE) and 5G wireless networks are key for this digital transformation, as they are designed to overcome interference from metal and concrete structures; offer the pervasive, secure, low latency connectivity required to connect assets across an expansive mine site, above and below ground; and support mining operations from pit to port.

Benefiting from 4IR Use Cases

Private wireless networks deliver the ‘heartbeat’ low latency connectivity required to keep autonomous haulage systems (AHS) moving, ensuring vehicles and equipment operate with the highest reliability and that they can be halted in an instant to maintain safety. By automating operations, usage and operating hours can be increased for greater productivity.

Using industry and customer data, Nokia has calculated that well maintained self-driving haulage fleets can also contribute to mining sustainability goals by reducing fuel consumption by about 12.4 ℓ/h and carbon dioxide emissions by 236 t a vehicle.

“Based on these calculations, in an average mine site with a production of 150-million tons a year, an AHS fleet would reduce carbon outflow by more than 15 000 t/y. This is the equivalent of 3 300 cars being taken off the road or the need to plant 230 000 new trees – a forest the size of 2 600 football pitches.”

These savings are made possible by more predictable driving behaviour with the introduction autonomous vehicles, as well as constant monitoring of vehicle data. With access to real-time information on tyre pressure and engine temperature, besides others, the number of unplanned stops can be reduced.

Placement of 4IR sensors in and around the mine will also allow teams to monitor environmental conditions, while wearables can track the vital health signs of miners themselves.

Use of geotracking applications also delivers more support for workers, allowing people and assets to be located more rapidly. Potential hazards can be avoided using geofencing to trigger alerts that let miners know that they are entering a restricted area.

 

It is clear that to shape greener, safer and more productive operations mining companies must begin investing in digital transformation today, Jadoul concludes.

Edited by Nadine James
Features Deputy Editor

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