Russia’s Nornickel working on LNG-powered mining ops

Russian mining giant Norilsk Nickel (Nornickel) is planning to build a small-scale LNG plant in the Murmansk region as it looks to convert its heavy mining equipment to dual-fuel technology.

Nornickel says it is currently developing the technical scope of the LNG facility it plans to install at its former plant in Nickel, near the Norwegian and Finnish border and within the Arctic Circle.

The firm says its Norilsk division “contains significant natural gas reserves and has developed infrastructure for gas production and transportation.”

Therefore, transition of heavy equipment to dual-fuel propulsion would allow Nornickel to significantly reduce the costs of delivery, storage and distribution of vehicle fuel, it said.

According to preliminary calculations, the cost of LNG produced at the plant would be 2.5 times lower than the cost of imported diesel, Nornickel said, adding that it would build the LNG facility between January 2022 and March 2023.

Test project already underway

The world’s largest nickel and palladium producer is already working on a pilot project to convert dump trucks to dual-fuel operation.

As part of the project, the firm will upgrade the engines of four diesel-powered BelAZ mining dump trucks to use LNG with trials scheduled in the second half of 2021.

It will test the trucks at its Zapolyarny mine, nearby the firm’s Nickel plant where the small-scale facility would be located.

According to Nornickel, the trials will help to identify whether it is possible to replace 40% of diesel fuel with LNG.

Experts estimate that the application of this new technology will significantly reduce emissions, the firm said.

In addition, replacing diesel fuel with LNG minimises the cost of fuel for mining equipment, which would result in reduced transportation costs per tonne of overburden/ore, it said.

Following the outcome of the trial, Nornickel said it aims to decide whether it would convert the entire fleet of dump trucks used in the development of the quarry. This covers a fleet of approximately 30 vehicles.

The mining giant will also look into the prospects of converting other mining dump trucks it uses for large-scale projects, such as the extraction of limestone from the Verkhnaya-Tomulakhskaya area as part of the company’s sulphur programme. This inludes about 60 units.

The cost of converting one dump truck under the pilot project has a price tag of about 11 million roubles ($150,000) but if the process covers large fleets of quarry trucks, costs of the works will be significantly lower, Nornickel said.

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