The approval of a solar and battery system at miner Syrah Resources’ Balama graphite operation, in Mozambique, reflects an ongoing shift in the African mining sector towards sustainability, self-reliance and cost control, states energy investment company CrossBoundary Energy mining business development director Matthew Fredericks.
Hybrid renewable-energy solutions derisk a mine’s energy supply uncertainties while attaining performance guarantees, decreasing operational costs and maximising carbon emission reductions.
Fredericks adds that the 11.25 MWp solar photovoltaic (PV) and 8.5 MWh battery energy storage system (BESS) at the Balama operation will reduce diesel consumption for power generation by 35%.
During peak daylight hours, the solar battery system can supply up to 100% of the operation’s power requirements, taking advantage of the high solar irradiation potential on site.
The BESS will alleviate reliance on the spinning reserve of the diesel plant, also reducing operational costs and, ultimately, the mine’s all-in sustaining costs.
CrossBoundary Energy is providing 100% of the financing for the PV system and BESS plant at Balama.
“We forecast that the renewable-energy system will save about $8/t (or around R123) at a 15 000-t-a-month production rate.
CrossBoundary Energy is delivering this project in partnership with solar energy equipment supplier SolarCentury Africa under a build, own, operate, transfer arrangement comprising a ten-year operating lease, and an operating and maintenance contract,” he explains.
CrossBoundary Energy initially became involved in the project at the end of 2019 and assisted with the design and development of the project.
The company was then chosen to fund the solution, with SolaryCentury Africa taking the development lead role.
The BESS was approved by Syrah Resources’ board of directors in April 2022, as the system is scheduled to be commissioned and operating before the end of March 2023.
“We also signed the build, own, operate, transfer agreement with Syrah Resources for the hybrid solution, signed engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contracts, and provided notice to proceed, meaning we’ve begun to disburse funds to procure the most expensive and long-lead equipment.”
Therefore, CrossBoundary Energy is managing the EPC contractors and will own, operate and maintain the solution for the complete term of the contract agreement.
Fredericks states that oil and gas general contractor ENHL Bonatti will be the EPC contractor for the project, and technical engineers Nidec Industrial Automation Southern Africa will supply the BESS.
He emphasises the benefits of integrating multiple, complementary technologies at a mine site, particularly the role which the BESS system plays, as “this component is a strategic part of solving the energy puzzle”.
“Manufacturing companies are inundated with requests for timeslots for batteries, owing to the increased demand for BESS systems globally. Owing to our flexibility and partnership approach towards working with SolarCentury Africa, we were able to develop and sign an early works agreement to secure manufacturing slots with the battery manufacturer to avoid project delays.”
Momentum for Hybrids in Africa
Fredericks adds that momentum has been growing for hybrid power solutions that cater for African mining – including in Mozambique – in recent months.
CrossBoundary Energy has noted significant interest and opportunities in Africa, where the company is developing and constructing hybrid energy projects for miners Rio Tinto, NextSource Materials and Syrah Resources.
He comments that African mines are proving to be leaders in adopting hybrid energy solutions, owing to the high costs, uncertainty and complex logistics as well as price volatility associated with thermal fuel used at remote sites.
Further, the company envisions that the Balama project will be the first of many graphite mines in Mozambique as demand for graphite – and other metals necessary for so-called green power technology – increases. Mozambique is currently among the top four largest graphite producers in the world.
“Graphite is a key mineral to power green technology such as electric vehicles (EVs). The increase in new mining capacity will translate into large investment in the mining sector, and shareholders and customers will also demand much cleaner and greener mining operations.”
In addition to graphite, high demand for hybrid energy solutions is linked to the growing global market for strategic minerals – specifically battery minerals such as graphite, cobalt, vanadium, nickel and lithium – as well as gold and copper, he adds.
For these reasons, Fredericks emphasises that mining in Africa is vital to meeting the global demand for renewable hybrid energy solutions.
“Renewable-energy solutions can save Africa’s industrials up to 30% to 50% in electricity costs. Partnering with experts in renewable energy enables miners to focus on their core business activities while ensuring the highest level of renewable-energy penetration and decreasing reliance on thermal plants,” he concludes.