Natural Gas: The Future of Energy in MiningThu, 10/17/2019 - 12:33
Ask the CEO of ACERALL Energy Solutions about the future of sustainable energy consumption in mining and he will tell you it is natural gas. César Stackpole not only believes that, he is betting on it. “We are the first Mexican company to introduce engineering design and installation of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and Liquified Natural Gas (LNG).”
Stackpole explains that the Energy Reform revolutionized the availability of natural gas and created the opportunity to deliver it directly to mine sites. “Now, we have the regulatory avenues to haul natural gas to a mine entrance.” He adds that changes in regulations are still required in terms of the use of contaminant fuels. “At the moment, CNG has the strictest regulations compared to other fuels, even though it is significantly less contaminating,” Stackpole says. Because regulations are more complex, it is harder to certify natural gas suppliers, implying a lower risk of failure.
ACERALL Energy Solutions was founded in 2007 to supply steel to the industry. “We started as a strategic steel supplier for Goldcorp and from there migrated to a more specialized offering in control and process equipment. Our goal is to add value through specialized products,” Stackpole says, adding that the company’s continued specialization led it to venture into the energy niche. “We provide two benefits in this area. First, enhancing project profitability and second, doing so through eco-friendly solutions.”
Although natural gas is an efficient and low-cost way to reduce contaminants emissions by 95 percent compared to diesel, one main barrier remains to fully permeate the mining industry: infrastructure. “The country still lacks the gas pipelines to reach remote mines. But we see this infrastructure being developed and opening the door to this revolution.” ACERALL is starting to deploy its GNC business in Mexican mining; it has already approached Goldcorp, First Majestic and Avino & Silver Gold Mines, just to name a few. Technological improvements have helped its cause. “Gas transport trucks are more secure, allowing natural gas to be hauled safely for longer distances,” Stackpole says.
When it comes to natural gas, miners have two options: CNG and LNG. “The decision is mainly influenced by the cost of the molecule in a given territory; that is, logistics and transport of the supply,” Stackpole says. For example, northern Mexico’s has easy access to US LNG imports so hauling costs are lower and more competitive than those of CNG in this region.
Stackpole adds that the benefits of natural gas exceed the expense, especially for such an energy-intensive industry as mining. “Natural gas can reduce energy expenses up to 50 percent. But this is just a side benefit; the main benefit is related to environmental awareness and the possibility of reducing contaminant particle emissions.”
The initial investment is another aspect to consider when evaluating a shift to natural gas. Stackpole says that as mining companies are usually graded AAA, financial options abound. “If miners are willing to accept a three-year ROI, there are many financiers that can undertake the initial investment.”
Once the decision to shift from fossil fuels to natural gas has been made, the adaptation period proceeds: part of the mining machinery will have to be modified for change from diesel to CNG or LNG. “Natural gas is a universal fuel that can serve all processes through a series of adaptations to the equipment,” Stackpole says. He adds that there is a misconception that natural gas can make machines lose power. While not all motors are suited for it, if the adaptation is well-performed, Stackpole says there should be no power loss. “Motors can either work fully on natural gas or as hybrids with diesel and natural gas working as a bi-fuels.”
To smooth the transition, ACERALL Energy Solutions starts all its projects by performing a feasibility study to guarantee that project’s viability. It also provides training on the installation and use of natural gas. “We also have the option of operating along with our clients for an indefinite period or until the client feels comfortable enough operating independently.”