Gustavo Ortega
Director General
Grupo México, Energy Division
View from the Top

Producing Cleaner Copper

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 14:04

Q: How can a mining off-taker meet its rampant energy needs?
A: We are always looking to optimize our results. Energy is one of the most expensive inputs in the mining industry. This is why the company decided to look for cost-efficient options under the self-supply scheme. Grupo México Infraestructura, with its respective energy division, was created for this purpose. The company started operations with two combined cycle plants that together generate 500MW and supply electricity to our Sonora mines. The company also entered the renewables field with the construction of a 74MW wind farm located in Juchitan, Oaxaca. Renewable energy represents 12 percent of the company’s energy mix. Our electricity power supply comes mostly from natural gas. In fact, we have our own gas pipeline, measuring 100km. Mining also consumes high quantities of diesel, mainly for cargo trucks used for transporting minerals. Grupo México consumes approximately 15 million liters of diesel per month but the company is analyzing opportunities to decrease this amount with the use of LNG, in particular by adapting the truck’s engines with dual technology so they can work with both fuels.
Q: What measures have been taken to reduce the company’s energy consumption?
A: Our goal is to reduce the company’s use of energy by employing all available techniques. From efficient water-pumping systems to the modernization of our technologies. We are working to get the ISO 50001 certification for the mining division as well. To this end, the company reduced its copper-related energy intensity by 8 percent. These measures have been implemented throughout the process: during development and production, we use fewer explosives; when executing the flotation process, we use other types of chemical reagents to recover more copper and in the leaching process, bacteria are used to increase the metal’s recovery. With all these measures, we have recovered 20 percent more copper.
Q: How has Grupo México capitalized on the new regulatory framework?
A: Grupo México has taken advantage of the new regulatory framework by participating in the Wholesale Electricity Market (WEM). Through our combined cycle plants, the company’s operations consume 400MW and the rest is commercialized in the market. Achieving this has represented a major challenge.
We are confident that participating in the WEM will result in many benefits for the company but at the moment we are adjusting to this new regulation. There are many elements that need to be much clearer, such as how congestion and loss components are determined. In this sense, day-ahead and spot market prices have to be determined as well. An official website could make these processes more transparent and accountable because, at the end of the day, market prices have the greater impact on users. On the other hand, all the administrative procedures and their handling by CRE takes a great deal of time.
Q: What advice would you give to companies to improve their energy management practices?
A: The first recommendation is to evaluate processes internally and improve them. There are always areas of opportunity and sometimes we do not look to the simplest option. Companies should create interdisciplinary groups related to these topics and train them. Sometimes equipment is not replaced for cost reduction but it often results in inefficient performance, which can be reflected negatively in ROI. Looking at this way, the replacement is justified. There are many advanced technologies for water-pumping systems, lighting and the integration of renewables across the whole value chain.
The second recommendation would be that when market prices stabilize, companies should evaluate their options, such as isolated supply or participating in the WEM.