Ivanhoe Mines announces net-zero carbon goal for copper mine

Battery electric, hydrogen fuel cells seen as options for Kamoa-Kakula Copper Mine.

Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. has become the latest mining operation to pledge a goal to become carbon-free through the use of an electrific- or hydrogen-powered fleet of mining equipment. Robert Friedland, Ivanhoe Mines’ executive co-chair, made the announcement in advance of his participation in the 2021 Goldman Sachs Copper Day. The change will occur at its Kamoa-Kakula Copper Mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Ivanhoe Mines has committed to work with its joint-venture partners and underground mining equipment manufacturers to ensure that Kamoa-Kakula becomes the first net-zero operational carbon emitter among the world’s top-tier copper producers.

Copper mine Kamoa-Kakula’s new 220-kilovolt substation is energized with hydropower from the national grid. The miner has two public-private partnerships with the DRC state-owned power company to provide Kamoa-Kakula with 240 megawatts of electricity.

Since the Kamoa-Kakula mine and concentrator plant already are powered by hydro-generated electricity, the focus of the company’s net-zero commitment will be on electrifying the project’s mining fleet with new equipment powered by electric batteries or hydrogen fuel cells.

“Industrial-scale electric and fuel-cell mechanized underground mining equipment currently is being tested around the world,” said Friedland, “and it is only a matter of time until they become available for commercial use in the size that we require for our large-scale, bulk mining operations. We plan to be among the first of the early adopters of the technology.”

Kamoa-Kakula is expected to begin producing its first copper concentrates soon, and is projected to be the world’s highest-grade major copper mine. Phases 1 and 2 combined are forecast to produce approximately 400,000 tonnes of copper per year.

“Kamoa-Kakula already is powered by one of the greenest electricity grids in the world, so we have a considerable head start in achieving our net-zero goal,” said Friedland. “The carbon footprint of production will eventually be priced into finished copper, enabling buyers to better evaluate how much the metal contributes to the environmental impact of their products. This will become increasingly important to purchasers of copper-intensive products, such as electric vehicles.”

A 2020 independent audit of Kamoa-Kakula’s greenhouse gas intensity metrics performed by Hatch Ltd. of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, confirmed that the project will be among the world’s lowest greenhouse gas emitters per unit of copper produced.

“Given the extraordinarily high copper grades and access to abundant clean, renewable hydropower, Kamoa Copper is uniquely positioned to achieve the net-zero operational target much sooner than other major copper producers, said Mark Farren, CEO of Kamoa Copper. “We are working closely with our mining equipment suppliers to decrease the use of fossil fuels in our mining fleet, and evaluate the viability, safety and performance of new electric, hydrogen and hybrid technologies. We plan to introduce them into our mining fleet as soon as they become commercially available.

“Unlike diesel equipment, electric underground mining equipment produces zero emissions, thus making for more sustainable operations while also increasing the health and safety of those working in the mine. Ventilation costs also would be significantly reduced with electric equipment.”

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