Can battery technology extend the availability of intermittent sources of energy for mining companies? Emerson’s Juan Carlos Bravo, a member of the metals and mining industry team, shares his thoughts
We as consumers normally do not think of nickel as an important part of our life, but according to the Nickel Institute, this product is present in most of our daily lives. Nickel is normally sold to product manufacturers who use the nickel-containing alloys as part of their manufacturing process.
This group comprises a large number of manufacturers of components, sub-assemblies, and other products that are then used in the manufacture of “end use” applications. The ten most dominant “end use” applications for nickel are construction, piping, chemical processing, kitchenware, automotive, food processing, domestic appliances, aircraft and aerospace, heating equipment, and consumer electronics.
Recent reports from the Technology Review magazine, published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), indicate that companies are investing in a new kind of battery, based on sodium and nickel. This technology provides a new way of storing energy for applications that are not connected to the electrical grid.
The most common batteries for these applications are the lead-acid based, but this new battery has two primary advantages over the existing technology. They can charge faster—in over two hours compared to 10 hours for lead-acid batteries. And unlike many other batteries, this new battery doesn’t require air conditioning, which helps reduce fuel consumption at the site. This new technology had the potential to make off-grid power generation and storage more efficient. This would help utilities integrate power from a wide range of sources, including intermittent ones such as wind and solar power.In my opinion, this could be good news for the mining industry that recently has seen a reduction in nickel prices and in approval of new mining projects. Also, mining companies might reduce energy costs by using renewable energy with batteries that will make energy supply more secure and reliable. Miners are already using solar power, such as the Collahuasi mine, who reported its plan to install a 25 MW solar energy park. This installation will supply nearly 13% of the mine’s power needs during the day. But with this technology, they may be able to increase and extend the time of use.
If all this is successful, nickel might not just end up powering our houses or business but also the mining industry with renewed investments.