Green hydrogen and Antofagasta’s drive to carbon neutrality
3rd February 2022
Antofagasta is evaluating green hydrogen projects that could lower its Scope 1 and Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions –a key part of its plans to mitigate the impact of its operations.
Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and is an extremely energy efficient fuel. Here on Earth it only exists in combination with other elements and so must be separated from other molecules in order for it to be used as a fuel. Currently, most hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels and is employed in a number of industrial sectors –it is even used as fuel for rockets. However, its exciting wider potential application is a fuel to generate electricity.
The catch phrase of the day, though, is “green hydrogen,” which is produced not from fossil fuels but from water using renewable energy such as wind and solar, both of which are plentiful in Chile, to split the water molecule to release the hydrogen. Hydrogen produced from fossil fuels or not using renewable energy is variously called blue, grey or even brown or black hydrogen and does not have the sustainability characteristics of green hydrogen.
Antofagasta is testing the use of green hydrogen in different aspects of its operations – particularly transport - in order to significantly lower diesel use in direct (Scope 1) and upstream/downstream (Scope 3) emissions.
“We have committed to be carbon neutral by 2050, or earlier if the technology permits it. We’re clear that we need to reduce our emissions and take on bigger commitments,” says René Aguilar, Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability.
SCOPE 1 EMISSIONS – THE HYDRA PROJECT
According to the company’s own calculations, in 2020 a full two-thirds of its GHG emissions from diesel combustion were attributable to its mine haulage trucks. As such, Antofagasta is looking to be an early adopter of technology that will drastically reduce these emissions or eliminate them altogether.
Work to switch the trucks from diesel to hydrogen needs to take a major step forward and one alternative the company is pursuing is with the Hydra Consortium - comprised of Antofagasta, energy multinational Engie, Australian mining think tank Mining3, CSIRO Chile and Mitsui & Co, among others – which will test a fuel cell and battery powertrain propulsion system at Antofagasta’s Centinela mine. According to Andrés Alonso, Manager of the Group’s Water and Energy Resources, the expectation is to have the first Hydra prototype functioning during the second quarter of 2022.
The tests will allow the company to assess the powertrain’s behaviour and performance under real mine conditions, including at high altitude with suspended dust. It will also help establish technical and safety protocols for hydrogen use at scale in mining, which will be vital for the fuel’s successful deployment.
The project has recently been recognised by the British-Chilean Chamber of Commerce, which awarded the initiative the Environmental Innovation prize in the category “innovation in energy management.”
Of all Antofagasta’s operations, Centinela consumes the most diesel, operating some 120 mine haulage trucks and mining from six open pits, according to Benjamin Pieper, Mine and Concentrator Maintenance Manager at Centinela. “With six pits, we have a very dynamic operation, and because of these dynamics it may be difficult to electrify some machinery. Hydra - a pilot of a scalable prototype – is an innovative project reaffirming our constant commitment to sustainability, especially in environmental matters,” he says, highlighting the diverse group of participants in the Hydra Consortium.
“We’re preparing for when the technological disruption comes, in whichever form it comes,” notes Alonso. “We’re introducing electric-powered trolley assist systems at Los Pelambres, green hydrogen at Centinela and battery-powered trucks at Antucoya. We’re also negotiating with the haulage truck suppliers to see what technologies they can offer us when it comes time to renew our fleets.”
SCOPE 3 EMISSIONS - CLEANER RUNNING TRAINS
Antofagasta’s Transport division plays a key role in supporting the economic activity of the Antofagasta Region through its rail cargo services connecting mining operations with ports on the Pacific coast. It could become the first cargo transport company in South America to have hydrogen-powered locomotives.
The project – which would require a retrofit of its current fleet of locomotives - is in development in conjunction with the Green Hydrogen Accelerator of Chile’s Energy Sustainability Agency. “The idea we are analysing is to have a pilot up and running, with a locomotive operating on green hydrogen, in the next two to three years,” says Alonso.
“This is very important because the railway provides services to the Group and other mining companies in the Region, all of which have a goal to reduce emissions. The Transport division’s progress in using green hydrogen could represent a significant reduction in emissions, both for the rail service itself and for the mining companies to which it provides services,” adds Aguilar. “As a Group, we clearly see this as a possible way of replacing diesel to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
In another initiative related to Scope 3 emissions, Antofagasta has agreed to participate in evaluating the feasibility of HyEx, a project led by energy multinational Engie and a Chilean explosives company, Enaex, to produce green ammonia in northern Chile. As a possible offtaker of HyEx, Antofagasta would use ammonia or ammonium nitrate, which is used for blasting in the mining industry. The ammonia could also potentially serve as fuel for trains, haulage trucks and ships.
In order to publicise green hydrogen’s potential and raise public awareness of its fundamental role in the country’s energy transition, Antofagasta is a sponsor of Misión Cavendish, named after Henry Cavendish, who in 1765 was the first person to isolate hydrogen gas and reveal its properties. The mission seeks to “rediscover” the use of hydrogen gas as an effective solution towards achieving carbon neutrality in Chile.
This educational platform, created by the Innovation Club and the Chilean hydrogen association H2 Chile, seeks to educate the public and drive the development and consolidation of the use and understanding of green hydrogen.
“As a mining company focused on innovation, we are interested in collaborating and contributing to the development of the mining industry of the future, disclosing to the general public the technologies that have the potential to help us in achieving that goal,” says Aguilar.