Venetia mine rapidly becoming a flagship in advancing De Beers’ climate ambition

30th June 2023 By: Martin Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

Venetia mine rapidly becoming a flagship in advancing De Beers’ climate ambition

Kirsten Hund, Head of Carbon Neutrality, De Beers Group.

Combating climate change is a process. We are all in it together. We need to work together, and we need to be strategic about how we do it, how we report it, and how we talk about it.

There is no one solution to get to net zero or carbon neutrality. You need a combination of approaches. You need efficiency, you need renewable electricity, you need alternative fuels, you need nature-based solutions.

All these are parts of the puzzle. One is not better than the other. A combination of the parts is needed and getting them all in place is a process.

“I sometimes get frustrated because so much of the carbon and climate debate is focused just on numbers – what are your emissions, how much did you get them down by – and not on what you’re actually doing, the process you need to go through and in what environment.

“We operate in a complex environment where we’re going to have to build almost everything that we need to reduce our carbon footprint from scratch. That takes time and means the impact is even larger in the longer term, not just from a carbon perspective, but also from a developmental, just transition and transformational perspective.

“But that’s sometimes a really hard story to tell when the only questions you’re being asked are about the numbers,” De Beers Group carbon neutrality head Kirsten Hund told the Engineering News & Mining Weekly diamonds features team in a Zoom interview.

A big chunk of De Beers’ work is replacing the diesel that powers most of its mining fleet and considerable work over the past year included developing a strategy for fuel replacement, setting out a way forward to reduce its Scope 1 emissions through the use of hydrogen fuel trucks, battery-operated vehicles and potentially alternative fuels.

In partnership with diversified miner Anglo American, which has formed a partnership with EDF Renewables to form Envusa Energy, considerable renewable-energy work has been done to develop more than 70 MW of Southern African renewable energy projects in mostly Namibia and South Africa. Plans are in place to develop a 34 MW wind farm at Namdeb in Namibia and large-scale solar projects at Debswana in Botswana.

Wheeled wind and on-site solar are being developed for Venetia, which will hopefully result in South Africa’s largest diamond mine being majority renewably energised by the end of 2025. If all goes according to plan, this would lower Venetia’s carbon footprint by more than 80%.

Currently, the carbon footprint of using Southern African electricity is greater than using diesel, which means that as soon as the renewable power is connected, Venetia’s emissions will decline very steeply.

Renewable energy is seen as a crucial part of the solution throughout the diamond group, amid the successful building of renewable energy infrastructure now common worldwide and the cost of renewable-energy constantly falling.


Challenge of Our Time

A day hardly goes by without somebody sending Hund an article about a new climate-related invention, at a time when climate change is being increasingly viewed as the biggest challenge of our time. There are so many very smart minds working and lots of innovation is happening in, for example, the fuel space and also in trying to find carbon-neutral feedstocks to help to create zero-carbon fuels for mining equipment. Against that background, De Beers is constantly on the lookout for how it can partner to make things work.

“The challenge is, and I see that whenever I’m at a conference in Europe or in the US, that a lot of the solutions at the moment are very much focused on Western development. If I put up my hand and ask whether any of this is happening in Africa, people look at me and say, well, no. For us, it makes no sense, for example, to import clean fuel from Singapore and to bring it to Namibia. We need local development and we’re keen to play a role in local development,” Hund highlighted.

Greater Efficiency

The first pursuit is greater energy efficiency, not only to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, but also to lower costs.

“Our Venetia mine in South Africa is rapidly becoming quite a flagship within the business and probably outside of that as well, and we are exceeding our targets there in becoming more energy efficient.

“My colleagues at Venetia have done a lot of hard work optimising and advancing process control projects that have reduced energy intensity by 18%. The closure of our openpit operation and going underground has also enabled Venetia to improve its energy efficiency by more than 20%,” Hund disclosed.

Validated Targets

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) – an independent body that defines best practices in emissions reductions and net-zero targets in line with climate science – has formally validated the De Beers Group’s Scope 1, 2 and 3 emission reduction targets.

“That’s very exciting for us. We initially just had formal targets for Scope 1 and 2 but now also have a target for Scope 3, which goes over and above our initial commitment. We know that Scope 3, the indirect emissions within our supply chain, will be the most challenging to address but we thought it really important to set a formal 25% reduction target to be met by 2030,” Hund explained.

Moreover, towards the end of the decade, De Beers anticipates that its Scope 1 emissions will fall materially, as it begins to reap the rewards of converting its diesel fleet to battery-operated vehicles; replacing diesel with alternative, renewable fuels and, potentially, hydrogen fuel trucks.

In tandem, it expects Scope 2 emissions from purchased electricity to decline sharply as its renewable-energy projects come online.

Especially for Scope 1 and 2, the intention is to go way beyond what the SBTi-validated targets require.

“Having SBTi tell us we’re aligned with science and international best practice is important validation for us. It also shows we’re not just saying something to make ourselves look good.

“Scope 3 emissions are really the emissions of the companies we purchase goods and services from . . . but it’s also the cutting and polishing of our diamonds, on the other side of our value chain, so Scope 3 is really about partnerships. It’s about working very closely with all those suppliers and offtakers, and we’ll guide them, capacitate them and engage with them to make sure they also reduce their carbon footprints.

“When it comes to big suppliers, we’re developing memorandum of understandings together with Anglo American. When it comes to smaller suppliers, it’s really important that we engage with them and help to build capacity.

“We’re also working very closely with our Sightholders and looking at how they can reduce their carbon footprint, for example by switching to renewable energy. Quite a few of them are already doing that. We’ve set a target of a 25% reduction in Scope 3 emissions by 2030. Total elimination is where we all need to get by 2050, for the sake of the planet, and that depends on many different partners and factors, but we see ourselves as a partner and facilitator in that process.”

Included in De Beers’ triple scope reduction targets is the roadmap to achieve them, committing De Beers to do its share to keep global warming below 1.5 ºC, which embraces moving away from fossil electricity, supporting capacity development from early research at academic institutions and community engagement, while also investing in solar and wind energy at its operations.

Hard Nut to Crack

Lowering Scope 1 emissions from operational fuel use is seen as a hard nut to crack.

“For us, that’s about half of our total direct emissions. Scope 1 and Scope 2 are more or less equal, and eliminating Scope 1 emissions is challenging because there is no immediately available zero-carbon alternative to diesel and you have to choose a number of strategies to seek to address that,” said Hund.

Electrifying is seen as the best way and again pointing to the Venetia underground project, underground equipment is a lot smaller than openpit equipment, which makes it easier to electrify.

Most of the underground fleet is earmarked for renewable electrification. Until that happens, only as much diesel as is absolutely necessary is being used while an eye is kept on alternative fuels.

Green hydrogen-battery hybrid haul trucks could be part of the solution, especially for heavy haulage, with considerable development happening in the alternative fuels arena, including the use of waste as a green fuel feedstock.

“It’s one of those areas where there are new developments and new inventions almost daily,” said Hund, as original-equipment manufacturers strive to lower the carbon footprint of mining equipment.

Investing in Seaweed

The small percentage of hard-to-abate emissions that is likely to remain at the end of the decade is being tackled by developing and supporting nature-based carbon-absorption solutions, such as the Kelp Blue project, which centres on growing and managing kelp forests underwater to lock away CO2 in seaweed off the coast of Lüderitz, Namibia.

Kelp Blue’s plan is to harvest part of the kelp to make biostimulants for sale initially locally and then globally. What is viewed as positive about kelp is that it naturally absorbs a very large amount of carbon, which is why the project is being supported by a $2-million investment. As part of the De Beers support for the project, a methodology is currently being developed to measure the exact amount of carbon being sequestered by the kelp.

Kimberlite rock also absorbs a certain amount of carbon and through CarbonVaultTM, the capacity of treated kimberlite to permanently store carbon is being researched to find out whether the technology is feasible, and scalable, practically and economically. So far, that has proven to be challenging.

A strict strategy around the hard-to-abate carbon removals has been introduced to avoid random project development. “We want to focus on projects that remove carbon from the atmosphere, that are within the vicinity of our operations in Southern Africa, that we have a certain control over, that are nature-based, but that also have strong co-benefits aligned with our broader Building Forever sustainability framework, so that our projects, besides sequestering carbon, also create jobs, enhance biodiversity and help to save water,” said Hund.

Mining Weekly: What is De Beers’ progress in trialling hydrogen fuel cell haulage?

Hund: We’re about to start a feasibility study to look at what would be the potential for the deployment of such trucks at one of the large openpit mines in Botswana. At this point, you cannot use hydrogen trucks underground, so it’s really about what can you deploy at an openpit mine, and what would be the technical feasibilities of developing the hydrogen locally for the trucks. We definitely see it as an option and an exciting alternative to diesel fuel trucks. The impact on the emissions would be significant, but we need to compare it with other options as well – alternative fuel, electrification, so that’s what my colleagues at Debswana are about to start doing in the coming months.

What roles are played by your carbon neutral steering committee and carbon neutral working group?

Those are our internal governance mechanisms to keep us on track. The members of the carbon neutral steering committee are also the members of our executive committee. We report to them on progress very regularly. It shows how much the commitment to reduce our carbon footprint is really owned by the leadership team. They’re really engaging and staying on top of this. It also means that it keeps us integrated. De Beers is an interesting company because we cover the whole value chain. We discuss the importance of the work we’re doing at the mine site, but also about what it means on the consumer side, what it means for marketing and the selling of rough diamonds. We keep that whole strategy integrated.

The carbon neutral working group covers the different climate strategy focal points within all the parts of the business and there are over 20 different parts of the business. That group gets together monthly to share knowledge, to make sure that we’re not just inventing one solution in South Africa that people in Namibia do not know about, and to make sure that we share that information, that we share challenges and questions that we have, and that we make sure that we all work together as a team. This is not the kind of work that can be done by just me and my team.

Rooftop Solar Panels

De Beers, which has rooftop solar panels at eight sites, has been buying renewable energy for its retail outlets in the US and UK. Although the impact of these initiatives is still comparatively small, owing to the largest portion of its emissions coming by far from its mines, they are indicative of the aspiration of the world’s largest diamond mining company by value to go all the way to protect our planet.