By Ezra Black
Last year Teck Resources began experimenting with a liquefied natural gas (LNG) and diesel hybrid fuel to power six haul trucks at its Fording River coal mine 29 kilometres northeast of Elkford.
Teck was hoping LNG would cut costs and reduce emissions but in a Dec. 14 statement, the company said it was ending the project this month. The particular LNG technology used in this pilot did not achieve targeted emission reductions.
However, Nic Milligan, manager of community and aboriginal affairs, said the company is committed to using LNG as an alternative fuel source. The pilot project started in October 2015 and was the first time LNG was used as haul truck fuel at a Canadian mine site.
“[The project] has provided many valuable [lessons] to Teck, such as safe use of LNG and integrating new technologies at our operations,” said Milligan.
“We are currently assessing other suitable LNG technologies and the results of the pilot will help to inform our next steps,” he continued.
In a June statement, the company said it could eliminate about 35,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions and reduce fuel costs by more than $20 million annually if the LNG and diesel hybrid fuel were used across Teck’s steelmaking coal operations.
LNG is the same as the natural gas people use to heat their homes but it’s turned into a liquid by freezing it to -162°C. To replace full diesel with a diesel/LNG blend to fuel haul trucks, Teck used conversion technology to retrofit the diesel engines without the need to change the original design.
New hardware was mounted externally on the trucks. If a haul truck equipped with a conversion kit ran out of LNG, it automatically switched over to diesel and continued to run. FortisBC transported and supplied LNG to the mine site and provided financial support towards upgrading the truck maintenance shop, said the statement.
Will LNG replace diesel as the fuel of choice for haul trucks? Not for a while said Travis Balaski, an executive with Calgary-based natural gas company Ferus.
Balaski said it’s a challenge right now for companies to switch to LNG because Western Canada’s supply infrastructure is not robust and viable engine technologies have yet to be developed.
“When you get into rail and mining trucks, that’s a more complex system you’re trying to implement and I’d say the technology has come a long way in the last couple of years but there still needs to be a year or two of development to really refine it,” he said.
Balaski said that if combustion technology is perfected, an engine burning LNG could emit 20 to 30 per cent less carbon dioxide and other pollutants than if it were just burning diesel.
“I can’t speak for Teck,” he said. “But there has to be further refinement in the engine technology in order to get the maximum value out of those emission reductions.”