The installation of 1MWh of flow battery storage at Anglo American’s Amandelbult mine in South Africa is a necessary first step to demonstrate use cases, before moving onto much bigger opportunities in mining.
By August, eight of Primus Power’s zinc bromide flow batteries will be installed at the mine in the Limpopo province.
The EnergyPods will provide Amandelbult with 200kW/1000 kWh of energy, recharging with electricity when demand and cost of energy is low, for release to reduce the mine’s draw from the grid.
Just a few years ago, the Amandelbult complex was a shrinking operation, employing around 3500 people. It is a different story today. Advanced underground mapping and borehole studies identified mass rock ratings to ensure mining deeper would be viable.
The various reefs the complex sits above contain the world’s biggest reserves of platinum group metals (PGMs), including palladium, ruthenium and iridium. At present some 15,000 workers and contractors are employed at Amandelbult.
Cheaper power on demand
During shift changes, which requires bring workers up deep shafts in lifts and transferring the new shift below, the complex’s power draw is considerable, and the batteries will be used to provide energy during these periods, reducing its demand on the grid, providing an energy tariff arbitrage use case.
The business model will be rounded out by using the batteries to demonstrate back-up. The mine relies on diesel generators for uninterruptible power supplies.
Once commissioned it could be a year, or even less, for Anglo American to roll-out further energy storage deployments, using Primus Power’s flow batteries.
These won’t necessarily be at Amandelbult, as the company operates 15 projects and operations in South Africa and Zimbabwe alone.
Andrew Hinkly, chief executive of Anglo American Platinum’s PGM Investment Programme, hints at plans for one mine that comprise a solar PV farm that will be connected up to batteries, in much greater numbers than the eight being shipped to Amandelbult in the coming months.
According to Tom Stepien, chief executive of Primus Power: “When you hook up solar PV with long duration batteries, you have the means to produce a reliable source of cheaper electricity well beyond solar sunshine hours. That is compelling to huge energy consumers like mines and also grid operators.”
Rapidly developing technology
“In South Africa, when we also include the deployments of the EnergyPod flow batteries by Eskom, a deal that we were able to facilitate, we are going to see different use cases for these batteries. It’s a rapidly developing technology,” says Hinkly.
He’s referring to the recent support received from the US Trade and Development Agency that has gone towards Eskom’s deployment of four EnergyPods at its large-scale energy storage test facility in Rosherville, Johannesburg.
Having first invested in Primus Power through the Platinum Group Metals Development Fund in 2014, Anglo American Platinum is both a strategic investor in Primus and a supplier of iridium, which is used as a catalyst for the titanium electrodes inside the EnergyPod.
Before Anglo American came into the picture Primus Power began looking into an alternative electrode to graphite, which was much less susceptible to corrosion.
Stepien says: “We came up with the titanium electrode coated in iridium, which is actually cheaper by dollar/kW, because even though graphite is cheaper we actually use less equivalent material. Anglo American was the source of the iridium, which is a really a byproduct metal of platinum mining as there is not much of a market for it, in comparison.
As well as ensuring that Primus Power is never short on supplies of iridium, Anglo American’s commitment as a provider of venture capital is to “provide demand side facilitation”, says Hinkly, adding: “We ensure that Primus can be successful by providing a demonstration and usage case. It’s the first step in mass commercialisation.”
The mobility aspect of battery energy storage opens up potential, according to Hinkly, as the batteries can be moved to different sites, where required.
He says: “The batteries run for 20 years, so to reduce total cost of ownership it makes sense to deploy them for their operational lifetime. As existing assets, like diesel gensets, at various Anglo American sites, not just in South Africa, but globally, are due for replacement, there is an opportunity to upgrade to batteries.”
There are also opportunities when mines are first being established, before critical infrastructure is brought in, where off-grid power is needed. The alternative, cleaner and more cost-effective answer may be a microgrid using solar and storage.
“Our stance is to be open about these projects and share findings. We want to promote this market’s development and can achieve that by being open about how the technology is performing. There are a lot of interested companies, including Goldwind,” Hinkly says.
The Chinese company, which makes wind turbines and develops and operates wind and also solar PV parks within and outside of China, recently installed its own EnergyPod at a smart grid at its R&D facility in Beijing.