Antofagasta to test use of hydrogen in mining equipment

Centinela copper mine. (Image courtesy of Minera Centinela.)

Antofagasta (LON: ANTO) has become the first mining company in Chile to setup a pilot project to advance the use of hydrogen in large mining equipment, especially haulage trucks.  

The pilot, set at the company’s Centinela copper mine in Chile’s north, is part of $1.2 million HYDRA project, developed by the Australian government, Brisbane-based mining research center Mining3, Mitsui & Co (USA) and ENGIE. Chilean development agency Corfo is also a partner.

The initiative, part of Antofagasta’s strategy to combat climate change, aims to build a hydrogen-based hybrid engine with batteries and cells as well as to understand the element’s real potential to replace diesel. 

“If this pilot delivers favourable results, we expect to have extraction trucks using hydrogen within five years,” Centinela’s general manager, Carlos Espinoza, said in the statement.  

Chile’s mining sector employs over 1,500 haulage trucks, each consuming 3,600 litres of diesel a day, according to the mining ministry. The vehicles account for 45% of the industry’s energy consumption, generating 7Bt/y of carbon emissions. 

As part of its Climate Change Strategy, Antofagasta has adopted measures to mitigate the possible impacts of its operations. In 2018, it was one of the first mining companies to commit to a goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of 300,000 tonnes by 2022. Thanks to a series of initiatives, the group not only met its objective two years earlier, it also nearly doubled it, achieving a 580,000-tonne emissions cut by the end of 2020. 

Earlier this week, the copper producer joined other 27 members of the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) to commit to a goal of net zero direct and indirect carbon emissions by 2050 or sooner

The London-listed miner, which has four copper operations in Chile, plans to run its Centinela mine solely on renewable energy from 2022 onwards. 

Antofagasta had previously signed a deal with Chilean electricity producer Colbún SA to power its Zaldívar copper mine, a 50-50 joint venture with Canada’s Barrick Gold, with renewable energy only. 

The company, majority-owned by Chile’s Luksic family, one of the country’s wealthiest, had hoped to have Zaldívar fully converted to renewables last year. The global pandemic has delayed the plan. 

Antofagasta has simultaneously converted all its electricity supply contracts to use only clean energy sources. By the end of 2022, all four of the group’s operations will use 100% renewable energy, it said.