Renewables, EVs and hydrogen key to zero carbon mining, BHP says

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Renewables, EVs and hydrogen key to zero carbon mining, BHP says

The increased use of renewable energy, the deployment of electric vehicles and the use of hydrogen in metals processing will be key to achieving carbon neutral mining, representatives of Australia’s largest resources company has told an international mining summit.

Speaking to the Energy and Mines Virtual World Congress on Wednesday, BHP’s principal for portfolio strategy and development Jessica Harman, said that the miner was committed to transitioning its operations to be consistent with the Paris Agreement goals of reaching zero net emissions.

Harman said the move to transition to carbon neutral mining would have flow-on benefits for both the environment as well as BHP’s business interests.

“Meeting expectations is about rising expectations of our investments and our need to preserve access to capital and protecting and creating value is twofold,” Harman said.

“Firstly, this potential value in that we create when we displace diesel and switch to efficient and renewable energy sources. And secondly, we believe BHP’s commodities are well placed through strengthened demand in a low carbon future.”

Last year, BHP announced that it would be committing A$570 million towards cutting emissions across its mining activities, and subsequently announced that it would commit to reaching net zero emissions by 2050. BHP has also set an interim target to reduce its emissions by at least 30 per cent by 2030 from 2020 levels.

BHP’s carbon management specialist Steven McGill told the energy and mines conference that the purchase of renewable energy supplies would be a key priority in cutting its emissions, and that the company would be looking to make long-term changes to its operations, rather than relying on the purchase of carbon offsets to meet its targets.

“The core to our decarbonisation strategy is to preference lasting structural abatement rather than short term solutions, which increase our operating costs,” McGill said. “While carbon offsets will be used as required, we see structural abatement as the most sustainable pathway to achieving and maintaining that zero emissions.”

“Our emissions portfolio is about 80%, electricity and diesel, and therefore these energy sources form our priority areas for decarbonisation. The pathway to net zero begins with prioritising renewable electricity grid purchases,” McGill added.

McGill added that the use of diesel across the company’s operations was also a priority for emissions productions, flagging the potential for switching heavy vehicles to zero emissions alternatives.

“The second priority is to displace diesel. And our focus presently is on material movement studies at all major diesel consuming assets globally, as well as continuing collaboration with our peers in the metals and mining industry, and original equipment manufacturers (OEM). We see OEM collaboration on low emissions technology as an essential enabler to achieving our decarbonisation goals,” McGill said.

“Diesel’s high energy density and flexibility in use cases makes this area a challenge, but we see big opportunities in the efficiency gains to be realised by switching from internal combustion engines to electric motors.”

BHP will also look to hydrogen as a source of high temperature heat, replacing thermal coal in the processing of materials like iron in the production of steel. BHP’s Western Australian nickel refinery has been shortlisted to share in $70 million in grants being offered by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, to support the construction of large-scale electrolysers.

“For high grade heat, we see hydrogen is as our likely solution there. For lower grade heat, we are also considering resistive electric high temperature heat pumps as well as solar thermal, where the space allows. But from a high temp heat perspective, hydrogen is currently the solution we have pencilled in,” McGill added.

Such a project could see BHP establish itself as one of the first Australian based producers of zero emissions metals, which would follow a number of European steel manufacturers that have already launched trials of steel production using renewable hydrogen.

Michael Mazengarb is a journalist with RenewEconomy, based in Sydney. Before joining RenewEconomy, Michael worked in the renewable energy sector for more than a decade.

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