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Made-in-the-North technologies are reducing the mining industry's carbon footprint

Battery-powered vehicles and pollution sensors are contributing toward a greener mining sector
MacLean Engineering battery electric shotcrete sprayer
MacLean Engineering's battery electric shotcrete sprayer (Company photo)

Kati McCartney is out to "change the conversation" that the mining industry is contributing to the Earth's climate change crisis.

The president of FROSKR, a Sudbury-based environmental consulting firm, said the negative reputation and media attention that often casts the mineral sector in a bad light has largely been earned over the years.

"Mining does have this perception that persists globally that it's harmful for the environment," said McCartney, "and can you blame them?"

Climate change is serious threat, she said, but a more responsible movement in mining provides a solution.

McCartney took part in a virtual Prospector and Developers Association of Canada presentation this week, offering some climate change solutions by Northern Ontario's mining industry.

"Mining plays a critical role in our new energy economy."

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Though it sounds contradictory that mining helps the environment, McCartney said the path to de-carbonization for the planet requires minerals to manufacture technologies like batteries, wind turbines and solar photovoltaics. 

Her company provides smart mining solutions that help mining operations reduce their carbon footprint.

FROSKR is a spinoff company from Bestech Engineering, now under the umbrella of the Inovinta Group of Companies. The company provides air quality monitoring systems to mining companies in the Sudbury basin, enabling them to observe their sulphur dioxide emissions in real time through a network of remote sensing devices. 

Her firm also works with miners on compliance issues, such as environmental baseline studies, permitting, mine closure plans and community engagement in supporting the international industry movement toward more responsible mining.

One of the best examples of how mining has cleaned up its act is the introduction – and increasing adoption – of underground battery electric vehicles (BEV).

MacLean Engineering, a Sudbury and Collingwood manufacturer of BEVs, is leading the way.

"Northern Ontario is a leader in creating battery electric vehicles and getting them into market," said Tara MacLean, product manager at MacLean.

Many in the mining industry have pledged to create more environmentally friendly products, she said. And the federal government is now providing tax subsidies to those industrial sectors that adopt battery-powered vehicles for their fleets.

Since their first BEV went out the shop door in 2016, MacLean has more than 30 vehicles working underground at 10 mine sites across Canada, racking up 70,000 operating hours over that period.

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Fifteen are deployed at Newmont Gold's Borden Mine near Chapleau. Nine are on the job in the Sudbury basin.

The Borden Mine, anointed as the "mine of the future," runs an entirely underground battery fleet using MacLean vehicles, creating a quieter mine and a more environmentally friendly one with a lower carbon footprint.

Deploying a battery-powered fleet instead of diesel reduces the risk of hydrocarbon spills at Borden, she said.

Without having to vent diesel particulate from below ground, Newmont could install a modern ventilation-on-demand system that reduces the size of ducting and the number of fans to circulate fresh air in the mine, as well as save costs on energy consumption.

Borden's environmental footprint measures only 410 tonnes of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere every year, compared to other mine sites, using diesel fleets, that emit in excess of 30,000 tonnes annually.

As battery technology evolves, the company continues to keep tabs by measuring the performance of their machines at work.

Last summer, MacLean ran an equipment trial at an underground mine in British Columbia where the MacLean team logged more than 360 hours in monitoring the data telemetry coming off one of its machines.

Of the total energy used by the vehicle, 25 per cent of the electricity – about 2.1 megawatts – was being generated by the machine itself.

"As the machine is going down-ramp, they're actually regenerating power coming back into the machine that's able to be used," said MacLean.

A diesel-powered machine would've burned 5,000 litres of fuel during the same trial period, amounting to 13 tonnes of carbon dioxide released, compared to 0.2 per cent from an electric vehicle.

"As we move from completely diesel fleets to completely electric fleets, we've completely changed the makeup of mine sites and how much energy is going into a mine site and how much carbon dioxide is coming out of a mine site," she said.

Since cars and batteries are made of minerals, MacLean said her technology can create an environmentally friendly cycle and start the mining industry down a carbon-neutral path.