Energy boost

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Source: Featured in Mining Chronicle February, 2016

As commodity prices continue falling to record lows, miners are increasingly looking for ways to maintain their profitability or even viability by reducing operating costs and improving productivity.

According to Australian energy storage specialist Redflow, a combination of renewable energy and onsite power storage can improve cost-effectiveness at remote minesites…

BY LAURA GALIC

As commodity prices continue falling to record lows, miners are increasingly looking for ways to maintain their profitability or even viability by reducing operating costs and improving productivity.

According to Australian energy storage specialist Redflow, a combination of renewable energy and onsite power storage can improve cost-effectiveness at remote minesites.

Redflow CEO Stuart Smith said embracing renewable energy coupled with energy storage could assist miners to drive down the cost of their energy expenditure.

“Energy storage systems alongside solar arrays can deliver significant cost savings when compared with the infrastructure costs of setting up gas reticulation or using diesel generators, especially the cost of fuel when minesites are not grid-connected,” he said.

Remote installation

ASX-listed Brisbane-based company Redflow has developed and commercialised innovative zinc-bromide module flow batteries that can be used for grid-scale storage applications.

The company has also built energy storage systems for tough conditions, such as minesites, as its batteries do not require active cooling and can operate in temperatures as hot as 50C.

“The main benefits of our system are that it’s well suited to harsh environments, it’s made from recyclable materials and it doesn’t use any rare earth minerals such as lithium, so that’s a big plus,” Mr Smith said.

“Because it’s made largely from plastic, it doesn’t need any cooling in hot and harsh environments, so there’s no
requirement to have a container with air conditioning units inside it, which would go against the using energy efficiently mantra.”

The zinc-bromide chemistry of Redflow batteries makes them ideal workhorses for minesites.
They are better equipped to meet the demands of remote installation than traditional battery designs such as lead
acid or lithium ion.
Able to charge and discharge 100 per cent of their energy capacity each day, Redflow flow batteries are not damaged by such deep daily cycling or unexpected power outages.

Redflow batteries can be stored indefinitely when fully discharged, which is not possible with older battery technologies.
In addition, flow batteries require no triclde charging either in storage or prior to deployment, making the investment dollars stack up when it comes to energy density, shelf life and battery life.

Redflow’s large-scale battery (LSB), a 20-foot shipping container, holds as many as 60 flow batteries.
The LSB can store as much as 660 kilowatt hours of energy and can operate in parallel by forming multiple container
configurations for larger energy requirements.

This makes the product flexible and modular for minesites.

Off-grid solution

Mr Smith said solar power and energy storage technology in the mining industry was experiencing unprecedented times.
In a white paper on the topic, Redflow pointed to Sandfire Resources’ DeGrussa mine, which is investing $40 million
to construct a 10.6 megawatt solar power station.

It also cited Rio Tinto, which has deployed 6.7 megawatt of solar photovoltaic generation for an off-grid mine,
township and port to support its bauxite mining operations at Weipa in Far North Queensland.

Rio Tinto is currently adding an extra five megawatts of solar panels, with integrated energy storage to reduce diesel demand.
Mr Smith said large-scale energy storage could provide a cost-effective off-grid solution when coupled with renewable energy to reduce or remove the use of diesel generators to power minesites.

“This would see a large-scale battery at a remote minesite utilised in conjunction with solar,” he said.
“Such energy storage would overcome the intermittent supply of renewable sources by time-shifting energy until when it’s needed.

“You can also use energy storage to safeguard against grid blackouts, delivering significant cost savings by reduced disruption during power outages.”

Way of the future

Mr Smith said the mining industry’s understanding of energy storage technology was changing very quickly.
“With both of these examples, Rio and Sandfire, the technology wasn’t available when they first started looking
at it, so it’s a segment that is changing very quicldy and certainly the benefits will become very clear as well,” he
said.

“The only storage chemistry that were available for this were either lead acid or lithium, but we’re presenting a new
alternative.

“And of course the benefits of what our technology has over lead acid and lithium are very well suited to the mining environment.”

Mr Smith said he was certain these groundbreaking projects (Rio and Sandfire) would unlock similar investments in the mining industry, changing the way miners operated their businesses.

“There’s compelling reasons to at least consider it with existing mines and most certainly new mines, both from a commercial perspective as well as an environmental perspective,” he said,

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