Boosting the bottom line, employee well-being through sustainable energy

Goldcorp’s Ontario mine plans to transition away from traditional diesel fuel
By Brent Bergeron
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/06/2017

Looking to improve its bottom line from an efficiency perspective — while also improving the health, comfort and safety of its on-site workers — Goldcorp has an ambitious plan in the works.

The 15,000-employee gold producer is planning to transition away from vehicles running on traditional diesel fuel by fully electrifying one of its up-and-coming Canadian sites, the Borden Gold Project, acquired in 2015. This move represents a major shift in operational approach that will allow the company to use battery electric vehicles (BEVs) for almost all the requirements at the site.

This exciting initiative is an opportunity to positively impact employees’ well-being while generating significant economic benefits and driving down Goldcorp’s overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Borden will not only showcase Goldcorp’s commitment to sustainable and responsible mining, but also prove out that electrification is a smart business choice that will keep the sector competitive.

The Borden project is located in a northern Ontario community with a long history of supporting the forestry and transportation sectors. The region is now readying itself to welcome the mining industry as a new means to grow employment and economic opportunity.

The Borden project is currently in the pre-feasibility stage of development, with on-site activities involving drilling and sampling to define and quantify the mineral resource.

Once Goldcorp proves out the deposit at the site, it will move towards the advanced exploration phase in the second half of 2017, which is when the first electric vehicles — provided by Canadian companies Sandvik Mining & Rock Technology and MacLean Engineering — are expected to be put to work.

“Moving a mine site from diesel fleet to BEVs is no small feat, and represents a shift in thinking we hope the industry will embrace once they see the business case in action at the Borden project,” says Kerry Falk, marketing manager at Sandvik Mining & Rock Technology.

“Not only will there be a notable improvement in on-site air quality due to an overall decrease in fuel use, there is also a lot of cache related to demonstrating the use of battery-operated equipment that will be used daily — advances in technology that we as a company are very proud of, and will contribute to a better workplace overall.”

While the initial driver for the transition to electric vehicle fleets in underground mining has been the cost savings from reduced ventilation requirements, “it’s the human health dividend of battery-powered mobile equipment — removing diesel particulate matter from the underground environment, along with less noise and less vibration — that will have an immediate, beneficial impact on mine workers,” says Stuart Lister, MacLean’s director of marketing and communications. 

“The ‘mine of the future’ not only has a nice ring to it, it will actually mean something substantive and tangible for the miners themselves. This is a cornerstone of the sustainability legacy that Goldcorp is building with Borden.”

Environmental gains

In addition to significantly improving the health and safety performance of the mine, moving away from diesel will also help Goldcorp reduce its overall environmental footprint. In an increasingly competitive sector facing greater emissions regulation in every jurisdiction worldwide, making sites more operationally efficient — in addition to the environmental and health benefits — is a big win.

The company’s battery and electric mobile equipment will eliminate all greenhouse gases (GHGs) associated with the movement of ore and waste rock, equal to roughly 50 per cent of the total GHGs on site, or 5,000 tons of CO2 per year, and will reduce maintenance and energy costs.

With the decrease in emissions comes a reduction in underground ventilation needs. The use of an efficient, on-demand ventilation system will provide added benefits: The Borden project will require 50 per cent less ventilation than a standard diesel underground mine.

By moving away from diesel and achieving other reductions associated with the use of clean technologies, Goldcorp can avoid more than 7,000 tons of CO2 and eliminate three million litres of diesel fuel, one million litres of propane and 35,000 megawatt hours of electricity every year — which represents a reduction in operating costs of $7.5 million per year.

Eliminating diesel will also improve working conditions by removing diesel particulate and other gases such as NOX and SO2 from the workplace.

One of Goldcorp’s values is to embrace advances in technology that make good business sense not only from a dollars-and-cents perspective, but that also positively impact the environment as well as its people, who are the most valued assets.

Mining is an energy-intensive industry — as much as 15 per cent of site operating costs come from the consumption of electricity, diesel, propane and natural gas — so focusing innovation efforts toward a big cost driver makes obvious business sense. Year over year, over the life of a mine site, those savings and emissions avoided add up, with a great overall benefit.

Skill development

Borden will rely on digital and smart controls, including technology where vehicles are operated remotely to maximize equipment use for continuous mining underground.

This remote capability benefits employees by minimizing the time spent underground, which decreases overall risk, as well as encourages new skill development for those interested in mastering the operation of remote control technology.

Mining as a sector is continuing to innovate, with fascinating advances that challenge pre-conceived notions and beliefs about how mining is done. Goldcorp has chosen to work with trusted and leading industry partners to help the company step outside its comfort zone and expand how it thinks about taking resources out of the ground.

This project is an important step to take care of its people and the planet, while also making sure the business continues to drive productivity and economic improvements.

As work progresses this year at Borden, Goldcorp is hopeful that demonstrating the numerous benefits of BEVs will serve as an example of leadership in innovation, clean technologies and health and safety that will be adopted by other mining companies, big or small, worldwide.

With this flagship project, the company aims to generate new awareness that the “mine of the future” can deliver great gains both for corporate performance and for employees.

Brent Bergeron is Goldcorp’s executive vice-president of corporate affairs and sustainability, based in Vancouver.

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