The mine of the future – John Lewis, Managing Director, Aggreko Africa

The mining sector has faced significant challenges over the past few years. These have been exacerbated by the recent pandemic and emphasised by the global economic downturn, putting the sector under immense pressure to reinvent and reignite its vision of the future – innovating for a more profitable and productive tomorrow. This is, of course, not an easy task. 

Mining has its own set of incredibly unique hurdles to overcome to thrive and survive in the modern climate. The first of these is safety. Mining can be dangerous and as the mines become deeper, the dangers become more inherent. Organisations in this sector must put stringent safety protocols in place to ensure the ongoing safety and wellbeing of its people. It must also ensure ongoing energy availability – dips and drops in power availability can not only impact productivity but can have potentially catastrophic consequences with regards to safety. A consistent and reliable power supply is critical in this space.

This situation is further complicated by the increasing need for capital to allow for investment into more robust and reliable power and technology solutions. This is one sector that needs the potential of digital and transformation and the reliability of advanced energy technology to innovate and thrive. However, capital is in short supply, particularly now with volatile commodity prices and a global economy reeling in shock.  Uncertainty is the order of the day for every industry right now.

The future-forward outlook

It is easy to look at the future with a sense of impending doom. The variables mentioned above are hardly simple obstacles to overcome – they require extensive investment and foresight along with a commitment to more sustainable and dynamic infrastructure. However, this does not mean that they are impossible to overcome – already some mines have managed to leapfrog the challenges to create long-term solutions.

One such mine, Nevsun in Eritrea, Africa, needed to lower its power costs to profitably convert its gold mining operations in copper and zinc. The company needed to reduce fuel costs due to the volatility of fuel prices and did not want to commit to a long-term solar contract to resolve their power issues. Instead, they invested in an integrated solar/thermal hybrid solution that was both simple and cost-effective. The solution, developed by Aggreko, neatly wrapped the future-forward technology capabilities of solar and thermal power solutions into a sustainable bundle for the mining company. Cutting-edge software and hardware ensured that the mine had access to a reliable and manageable source of power that reduced costs from the moment it started working.

This is, perhaps, the most relevant point to be made about the mine of the future. Investing in digital and technology is investing in lower-cost operations that deliver higher efficiency. This is fundamental to building the mine of the future. Nevsun cut CAPEX from the outset with their Aggreko investment, and they did not need upfront costs for the solar plant which has allowed for them to conserve their capital for their mining operations and to reduce the amount spent on diesel. This had, among other savings, the environmental benefit of cutting their carbon emissions by 10, 000 tonnes annually.

The cold conundrum

There is one thing that stands true for the mining sector, regardless of the challenges that it faces – it always manages to survive. This is not the first crisis that has attempted to crack its foundations, and it will not be the last. The sector is known for its ability to overcome obstacles and adapt to changing circumstances. That is why it is possible to define and discuss the mine of the future – because the sector is always looking ahead at what it can do to shift legacy issues and reshape its potential.

Another of the complexities faced by mines is the fact that they are becoming increasingly deep and increasingly remote. Many mines are now based in rural areas with limited infrastructure and difficult working conditions. Operation managers have had to find inventive ways of managing heat, energy, and services in these distant spaces. Cooling, access to resilient energy solutions, and reliable alternative energy sources have become critical to ensuring long-term success for these remote mines.

Enter scalable solutions that can balance energy, cooling requirements, and access to services on the knife-edge of demand and in alignment with specific mining needs. These use top of the range technology and innovation to ensure that mines have the correct ventilation and cooling facilities, as well as consistent power. Aggreko has worked closely with its engineers and developers to curate solutions designed specifically to address these unique sector requirements.

The mining sector does not want to spend more money, is not interested in excessive capital expenditure, needs sustainable solutions, and is more focused on results than promises. That is why the mine of the future is not one built on a foundation of fluffy ideas but on solutions that have proven results, measurable deliverables, and that have already saved money for other organisations in the sector.

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