Lately, dynamic mid-tier Australian mining and exploration company Sandfire reported that they will be replacing their diesel power to solar power plant. It is expected to reduce the mine’s carbon emissions by 15% with the use of 10-megawatt power station, with 34,000 panels and lithium storage batteries.
Solar energy and minerals are two of Australia’s greatest resources that both highly concentrated in the same parts of Australia. This is really an exciting development for it realizes an important potential that has long been recognized but not exploited.
Since solar energy is used to power the mines, there’s a great possibility that the solar energy will be used to convert the minerals to chemicals and metals.
Metal production uses carbon and coal to produce metal from rock ore. Some of this carbon is used in the actual chemical reactions, but a large proportion is just providing energy for the process.
With this, changing the usual carbon energy with renewable energy (RE) has a great possibility to lessen the greenhouse gases on metal production.
The best example is the iron production, every toone of iron uses more than 400kg of coke (fuel) and coal. But by replacing the use of coal with the use of renewable energy (RE) as the heat source, it will reduce the carbon input by up to 30%.
The Next Revolution
As for the moment, for hot water and solar-powered electricity, solar energy in Australia is commonly limited to homes. But there’s a huge potential for using solar energy in regional Australia too.
Mines are often isolated. There is typically limited natural gas and electricity supply, and in remote areas energy supply is limited to liquid fossil fuels. This is exactly the potential being exploited by Sandfire Resources at its mine facility 900km north of Perth.
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) recently identified the potential to use solar in high-temperature processing of ores such as bauxite, copper and iron ore.
They have tested a range of temperatures and mineral mixes, and have produced iron products similar to commercial-grade iron products. They also envisage a solar iron-making plant operating in Western Australia and value-adding to our iron reserves before being shipped overseas.
They are expecting that this could reduce energy and emissions by 20-30% compared to current iron-making processes, by changing carbon-based fossil fuels to solar energy, although carbon would still be used in the chemical processes.
This gap can reasonably be expected to close with increases in the scale of operations and in regulatory pressure on conventional power sources.
It may be a way off, but these small chunks made by Sandfire Resources can do a big impact in the revolution in the Australian minerals industry.