To-do list: Slash energy bills, boost bottom line, save planet

Companies have cut carbon emissions by more than 250,000 tonnes by taking part in “treasure hunts” to search for operational efficiencies

For three days in January, engineers and experts from Hudbay Minerals Inc. went on a treasure hunt. Miners are always seeking treasure, but this quest was different − digging not for precious metals but for efficiencies that save energy, reduce production costs and help the environment.

The focus of this treasure hunt was Hudbay’s operations in Northern Manitoba, where it produces copper, zinc, gold and silver at three locations. It was a joint effort with GE Mining and Global Research.

GE’s Treasure Hunt projects are part of its ecomagination business strategy, launched in 2005 to help customers, investors and the public address environmental, energy and water challenges.  In the initiative, which was adapted from a concept developed by Toyota, GE partners with companies and organizations, setting up teams to review and analyze operations and facilities from top to bottom to identify savings and efficiencies. GE publishes a checklist for partners that want to get started on a Treasure Hunt.  These projects have contributed to more than $150-million (U.S.) in savings for participants and reduced CO2 emissions by more than 250,000 tonnes.

Treasure Hunt teams also listen to people on the ground, or in this case, in the mines, who can identify practices that can be reviewed and changed; for example, lights or computers left on overnight, space heaters that are gobbling up energy and so on.

It happened fast, says Robert Winton, Metallurgical Manager for Hudbay Manitoba. He met with GE Mining in September 2013, and after a research phase to collect data, the teams were on site by January 20 this year.

They look at factors such as the total energy and fuel a facility is using and whether it is metered accurately. GE’s program has been applied at more than 200 manufacturing and processing plants, but Hudbay was the first mining company it worked with.

Working in seven teams, the Treasure Hunt looked at how to save and be more efficient in a number of the company’s operations:  mining ventilation, mining operations, concentrator operations (where the ore is turned into zinc or copper concentrate), grinding, milling, operations at Hudbay’s zinc plant at Flin Flon, the powerhouse, electricity distribution and power generation alternatives.

The audit identified 39 projects where Hudbay can save energy. Some of these will require further research, but for 29 of these projects the savings can already be quantified.

Some of the key findings:

  • Hudbay can save 20 million kilowatt hours per year in electricity and 127 million gallons of water − enough to fill more than 6,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
  • The biggest savings can be found by converting the units that send and replenish breathable air for the miners from propane to liquid natural gas (LNG). These units are called downcast and air make-up units.
  • More savings can be obtained by using LNG instead of diesel at Hudbay’s Reed copper plant, about one hour east of Flin Flon.
  • Efficiencies are possible through new lighting, such as LEDs and other higher-efficiency bulbs, and by reducing electricity load at peak times.

After the Treasure Hunt, the teams produce reports showing where it would be most effective for the company to start its new energy-saving program. They look for the projects that have the potential to deliver the biggest return on investment.

Hudbay is already following up, says Winton. “We’re still engaged with GE, taking two of the high-level findings to the next stages. We’re looking at our concentrator to find ways of optimizing power for metal recovery, milling and grinding.” The second finding they’re putting into action is at the company’s Reed plant, also in Northern Manitoba. “We’re working on transitioning from propane to LNG.”

The switch to LNG has huge potential because of the new abundance of this fuel thanks to the unconventional gas revolution delivering new supplies to Canada, the United States and elsewhere. Hudbay and other companies can also benefit from the new LNG generators that are more fuel-efficient than diesel or propane burners, and that can be built and deployed in a relatively short time (less than two years compared to a decade or more to build a nuclear power plant). Even better, LNG also has a lower carbon footprint than other fossil fuels.

The Globe and Mail

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