Australia’s biggest manganese metals project may go 90% renewables

A mining company looking to exploit what could be Australia’s largest manganese metals resource are seeking to tap renewables to make the project competitive with their Chinese rivals.
Element 25 say they expect to source up to 90 per cent renewables for the electricity supply for the mine’s energy-intensive operations, and believe it could achieve price parity with Chinese suppliers if it does.
The huge 260 million tonne resource of manganese, known as the Butcherbird project, about 100km south of Mt Newman in the Pilbara region of Western Australia will need some 100MW of capacity to power operations, including the electrolysis needed to convert the ore into metal.

Element 25 executive director Justin Brown said that relying on gas only – as other existing mines do – would put electricity costs at around 12c/kWh; well behind Chinese competitors, whose electricity costs sit at around 7c/kWh.

The company is working with Murdoch University and Advisian to investigate exactly how far it can go with renewables, and various forms of storage.

Analysis done so far indicates that using a mixture of 50 per cent wind and solar will deliver a competitive price, likely around 9c/kWh. If the share of renewables is lifted to around 90 per cent, then costs may go even closer to competitors.

“We think we can improve on engineering to allow higher penetration of renewables, that will lower cost and the carbon intensity,” Brown says. That latter part is important, because Brown says that more and more international customers are demanding low-carbon supplies, and this creates added value.

Giles Parkinson