The global community has actively endorsed the inevitable and necessary transition to clean energy sources. Industries are demonstrating innovation by moving away from fossil-fuel-based business operations and creating a clear path to achieving sustainability. To do that, companies are striving to cease environmentally harmful practices condemned by policymakers and global warming experts worldwide. The Paris Agreement and the European Green Deal have stimulated the urgent need to mitigate the negative effects of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions directly associated with climate change.
As the world is seeking to achieve carbon-neutrality, the mining and metals industry is no exception. Climate change initiatives pushed the industry leaders to agree that it is time to get off the fossil fuel train. Even more so, mining and metals companies need to make a change before it hits them head-on. The sector is energy-intensive; hence, awareness of the environmental impact of the industry has led to extensive research on ways to reduce its carbon footprint. Global experts believe that to decarbonize the mining and metals sector, businesses must replace their fossil fuel-based energy systems with low or zero-carbon alternatives — and that alternative is green hydrogen.
What is Green Hydrogen?
Although there is no silver bullet for decarbonization, green hydrogen is a new dawn on the horizon for achieving cleaner mining. Hydrogen is the lightest chemical element on earth and can also be used as a source of fuel. There are three major ways to produce hydrogen: chemical conversion, steam methane reforming (SMR)/coal gasification, or the process of water electrolysis. With different production techniques, the color denomination of hydrogen changes.
Green hydrogen is generated by electrolysis, which is an environmentally friendly practice. It uses renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. Currently, green hydrogen is less cost-efficient than fossil fuels or other forms of hydrogen. However, as renewable energy becomes more accessible, the costs will continue to decrease. With its unique green properties and investment prospects, here is how Hydrogen may be the key to unlocking a greener future for energy-intensive sectors.
Powering Mining Vehicles
One of the main ways to use green hydrogen in the mining industry is by unlocking its fuel potential. The mining and metals sector is slowly transitioning from using fossil fuels to using zero-emission green hydrogen gas in vehicles. This is a huge step towards cleaner mining as one truck consumes 3,000 liters of diesel a day, and thousands are used by mining companies globally. Hence, the transition to hydrogen gas would bring a clean and efficient alternative to vehicles that currently use fossil fuels.
International experts see a lot of potential in employing hydrogen as a petrol alternative. The global Hydrogen Council has projected that 20% of targets for reducing carbon emissions by 2050 will come from utilizing green hydrogen. The European Green Deal calls for the use of fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). Eventually, companies looking to meet the proposed sustainability targets will have to make a slow but steady transition to using green hydrogen as fuel.
Achieving Energy Independence
Hydrogen could be the next step in the journey to renewable energy sources: by generating green hydrogen, suppliers can increase their energy autonomy while also reducing the environmental impact. Hydrogen-generated electricity could be used to power mineral-based production processes. For instance, copper mining utilizes green hydrogen as an energy vector. Specifically, methane production from hydrogen can be used as a reducing agent during the smelting stage of the process.
Hydrogen, while used as an energy source, also has the potential to help companies become more self-sufficient and independent. Dr. Daniel Roberts, the Director of the CSIRO Hydrogen Energy Future Science Platform, said, “By producing and storing energy on-site, rather than transporting diesel to a very remote site, mines saw a big reduction in diesel use and cost, with associated carbon emissions”. This helps make mining more sustainable and environmentally friendly while also improving energy independence at certain sites. The result is greener mining operations!
Attracting Sustainable Financing and Developing Partnerships
Energy-intensive industries are making an effort to follow a sustainable business model. Loans related to carbon emissions can result in lower interest rates. In particular, as the business reaches milestones in its operations that point to long-term sustainability. Mining operators, pressured by investors to use renewable energy sources, are increasingly turning to hydrogen. On the same note, governments are more likely to invest in companies that pursue environmentally sound production and transportation methods. Several countries, including Germany, Japan and South Korea, are actively seeking to develop renewable energy-based solutions for the mining and metals sectors.
Government and industry stakeholders can also help facilitate partnerships between renewable energy sites and mining companies. The newly-found business model provides an immense pool of opportunities, as noted by Hydrogen Senior Commercial Officer, Lorenzo Ducci. The expert believes that more companies should “work together, create this partnership within which to build solutions and develop applications”. This can help to develop a truly sustainable alliance, while also cutting costs along the way.
Tomorrow’s Green Alternative: Green Hydrogen as an Energy Source
The clean energy revolution has arrived and hydrogen is a fundamental part of it. The emergence of green hydrogen as an optimal energy source in mining is a very significant development in the industry. Its increasing use will address the concerns around greenhouse gas emissions derived from the use of fossil fuels, while at the same time boosting energy efficiency and sustainability of mining operations. Although green hydrogen power is a highly promising solution to some of the biggest environmental challenges that the mining industry is facing today, it’s going to be a long road to get there. The costs are still exceptionally high in comparison to the alternatives. Hence, working together and developing strong and long-lasting inter-sector relationships can be the only way forward for profit-oriented operations.
Luckily, most industry players are on the same page when it comes to reaching sustainability targets. So, it is easier to attract investors and collaborate with governments while shaping the carbon-free mining industry of the future. As more leaders in the sector rise to meet these standards – setting the stage for a smooth transition – clean energy use in mining will increase significantly, as will profitability over the next two decades.