Hydrogen Technologies in Mining
Hydrogen in Mining
I have been asked about likely examples for hydrogen use in mining.
The global hydrogen interest is associated with its potential to reduce and, perhaps ultimately, eliminate fossil fuel usage in energy, industrial processes and transportation. This is the same as the mining sector’s interest in hydrogen.
There is strong focus in the mining sector on producing “green” hydrogen from wind & solar resources through electrolysis of water, rather than using hydrogen from a fossil fuel source and then through fuel cells or is some cases directly utilising the green hydrogen through powering heavy mobile equipment, electricity generation, energy storage or replacing natural gas in existing operations.
There are good arguments that “blue” hydrogen produced from natural gas with the carbon dioxide captured and stored (CCS) could be a intermediate economic step to renewable energy produced hydrogen in the nearer term.
The key technical aspects of generating green hydrogen through water electrolysis using PEM (polymer electrolyte membrane) electrolysers and generating power from hydrogen using fuel cells are already proven technologies. Scaling up of equipment up to meet large industrial usage is now the focus of many companies looking to meet the demand.
Options for fossil fuel replacement by hydrogen are very broad with many of the potential applications in other sectors also being very relevant for mining.
Replacement of petrol/diesel by hydrogen in transportation is already underway with hydrogen cars, fork-lifts, trucks, buses, trains & even aircraft in routine operation in many parts of the world with the scope for further transition is growing rapidly.
In mining the hydrogen-electric open pit haul trucks and diesel locomotives are receiving attention, particularly for remote locations which would likely be fuelled from hydrogen generated from dedicated wind & solar installations.
Existing examples of hydrogen transportation in the mining sector include an Anglo American platinum mine trialling a Komatsu hydrogen-electric truck and Fortescue’s fleet of hydrogen buses in its iron operations utilising solar-power electrolysers to produce the hydrogen.
With respect to energy, the role of hydrogen is likely to be as a store of energy when there is excess generation capacity from wind & solar resources.
Wind & solar power generation coupled with hydrogen production and storage could replace diesel powered generation at remote mining sites and if hydrogen is being produced for energy storage then it can also be used for fuelling haul trucks and other equipment, such as buses, forklift trucks and cranes.
More direct uses of green hydrogen in the mining sector could be as a reducing agent in metallurgical processes producing “green” steel, copper, aluminium and cement - as a reducing agent in steel making, heating kilns in cement production, drying copper concentrates or producing steam.
Hydrogen can be blended into natural gas streams in existing operations as a zero-carbon replacement for natural gas. Blending hydrogen into the natural gas pipeline for residential usage is becoming a reality in South Australia.
Green hydrogen can produce green ammonia using nitrogen from the air - completely carbon-free. This in turn can produce ammonium nitrate with its various uses, including explosives for open pit mining & the quarrying industry. Green ammonia could also play a large role in decarbonisation as it can be stored and transported more easily than hydrogen and potentially can be as a fuel for heavy transportation.
Key to all these applications is the cost of producing green (or blue) hydrogen (or ammonia) and its competitiveness with more traditional, proven and relatively cheap fossil fuels.
In an Accenture note on mining and hydrogen it was stated “The way in which mines are operated makes the mining industry a logical first mover in the hydrogen economy”.
So if you think you have a good idea on hydrogen in any sector then the mining sector and the Hydrogen Hypothesis Challenge is the logical opportunity to explore it.