Image: Business Wire
It may sound like an oxymoron, bringing sustainable practices to mining operations, but unless we all stop consuming resources immediately, mining is also not going anywhere. So this is good news: since 2007, Alcoa's Jamalco Operations has been using a sustainable transport system to haul bauxite from a mine in Jamaica to a rail station. The system not only provides transport, but generates its own power—about 1,200 kW worth, which according to Alcoa is used to power the mine and is also fed back into Jamaica's power network. Alcoa describes the system thusly:
RopeCon consists of a belt with corrugated side walls and integrated wheel sets running on fixed track ropes guided over 11 tower structures. It is driven by two AC induction motors. As the conveying system is loaded with bauxite and begins its decent, the drives begin operating in continuous braking (regeneration) mode, generating the electrical power.
In addition to providing an alternative energy source, the system provides environmental benefits. The long distance conveyor operates mid-air, minimizing space requirements and easily crosses obstacles on the ground. It is quiet, dust-free and has a small footprint, using less land than road transport. "Switching to the RopeCon system saves 1,200 truck journeys a day along with the associated emissions of CO2, noise, and fine dust," said Maxwell.
The company issued an announcement this week about the system because it passed a marker: 10 million tons of bauxite transported from its Mount Oliphant mine to the rail station, where it is loaded and then shipped to an Alcoa-owned alumina refinery.
It's Good News, But...
The refining of bauxite is quite the toxic process, so it'd be nice to see some improvements there, too. All of the advice about reducing consumption of aluminum is still valid. As Warren has written before about aluminum:
Recycling aluminium saves 95% of the energy, and 95% in carbon dioxide emissions, compared to virgin production. Four tons of bauxite are required to produce one ton of aluminium. Worldwide, the aluminium industry uses as much electric power as the entire continent of Africa. Recycling one aluminium can save enough energy to run a TV for 3 hours or a 100 watt light bulb for 20 hours.
And Alcoa has been called one of the worst polluters on the planet. A few examples as to why, from UTWatch.org:
In Port Allen, LA, Discovery Aluminas, Inc., an Alcoa subsidy, pleaded guilty to contaminating the water and was fined over one million dollars by the state and the federal government. In Point Comfort, TX, Alcoa was fined $181,400 for emission violations in its bauxite refining plant. Pollution in the Grasse River, a tributary of the St. Lawrence River by the New York- Canadian border, can also be attributed to Alcoa. Since 1989, they have been under an order by the EPA to clean the river. There is still much to be done despite $7.5 million in criminal fines and civil penalties paid by the company in 1991.
Considering that, there's some argument to be made for Alcoa to use the $1.5 million it has saved in energy costs thanks to the conveyor system to invest in other initiatives to green its company-wide operations. (Although to be fair, as GreenBiz points out, Alcoa is working to reduce emissions by 30 percent by 2030, and is a member of a consortium working to develop the Global Reporting Initiative's G4 framework.)
More on aluminum and bauxite:
Hungary Declares State of Emergency As Toxic Industrial Sludge Covers Villages (Photos)
Enough, Already. 'Recyclable' is Not Recycling
Vedanta's Controversial Bauxite Mine Violates Tribal People's Rights: Indian Govt Report
Indian Tribals' Sacred Mountain Not Safe Until Vedanta Refinery Closed