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Renewable Diesel - The Next Wave in Sustainable Mining

October 24, 2023
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A great way to reduce the environmental impact of heavy equipment is to transition from traditional petroleum diesel fuel to a sustainable alternative. The growing availability of renewable diesel fuel, a drop-in replacement for conventional diesel, will make that transition much more manageable. In this edition of Experts Corner, Dillon McKinnon, Manager of Mining Equipment Technology at SMS Equipment, and Sylvain Godbout, Director of Mining Sales, Canada at Cummins, explain the technology and its implications for Canada's mining industry.

Why renewable diesel?

Why renewable diesel?

Dillon: There are a few drivers in Canada. On the regulatory side, the Clean Fuel Regulation Standard that recently came into effect is the biggest. This regulation mandates that the carbon intensity of gasoline and diesel fuels used in Canada must be reduced year over year. The only way to meet that demand is to blend more renewable content into those fuels today.

The other is that Cummins has also recently approved their entire line of diesel high horsepower engines across all ratings for use with up to 100% renewable Diesel. Utilizing renewable diesel reduces net greenhouse gas (GHG) emission by up to 90% compared to conventional diesel, depending on the feedstock and fuel pathway. Introducing these engines will give customers who want to run renewable diesel the confidence to know that they can reduce their GHG emissions without any risks to the equipment.

Sylvain: Today's investors want to know that they're investing in something that is greener and has less impact. So, in addition to regulatory pressure, there is also a positive financial impact. And when companies start to meet higher standards, their demand triggers the OEMs and distributors to develop better solutions.

At Cummins, we've made multiple investments in green technology. Since we don't know what the end solutions will be, we have to look at everything out there. So, renewable diesel is just one part of that.

How is renewable diesel different from other green fuels?

Dillon: Renewable diesel is also known by the technical terms HVO (hydrotreated vegetable oil) or HDRD (hydrogenation-derived renewable diesel). It is a next-generation biofuel that uses similar feedstocks to other alternatives like biodiesel but is made with a different process. This gives it some important advantages. Unlike its predecessor, renewable diesel is a drop-in fuel, meaning it can serve as a 100% replacement for diesel fuel. It can also be blended, and you can alternate between diesel and renewable diesel. So, there's a lot of flexibility there. It can also be transported and stored with existing diesel fuel infrastructure.

So our customers will be able to run renewable diesel if they want to run it. It's a value add for the customer at the end of the day – it is a 'drop-in' solution, and there is no cost to modify the equipment. It indeed provides another pathway and option to decarbonize their operations.

How will this impact the evolution of diesel engines?

How will this impact the evolution of diesel engines?

Sylvain: HVO or HDRD are much more compatible with existing diesels than biodiesel, which is why they can be used without blending. Our reason for testing and refining our diesels is to ensure that there are no detrimental effects to the engine from alternative fuels. The crankshaft and pistons in the lower part of the engine are lubricated with oil, so the concern is the valves and other fuel system components in the engine, which are lubricated by the fuel. So, this is why we have tested the impact of running 100% renewable diesel on all the components in the engine's upper part and ensuring that there will be acceptable wear down the road. Approving unblended renewable diesel for use in all high-horsepower engines is one more step on our path of continued innovation to help our customers reduce their carbon footprints while upholding performance and reliability standards.

Dillon: I should add that some of our customers are concerned about lifespan because they view their equipment as long-lifetime assets. It's not unusual to see haul trucks with 60,000 to 100,000 hours plus on them, and large shovels can run beyond 150,000 hours.

What's the availability of renewable diesel fuel?

What's the availability of renewable diesel fuel?

Dillon: Renewable diesel facilities are already coming online in Canada. There's a plant in Prince George that just recently announced it had begun production this summer, and a big plant here in Edmonton is currently under construction, which when completed in 2025, the facility is expected to be the largest renewable diesel producer in Canada - creating more than 6 million barrels of renewable diesel annually. Additionally, there have been announcements for other renewable diesel refineries across Canada, many of which plan to produce by 2027.

What's the relationship between Cummins and Komatsu equipment?

Sylvain: We build and supply the diesel engines used in some of the largest pieces of Komatsu equipment, and SMS Equipment is the largest independent Komatsu dealer globally. In North America, this is the largest mining region, even when you include the US which has ten times the population. So, Canada is definitely a leader in mining and in green mining, so we work very closely with SMS Equipment.

Summing up:

Dillon: I want to highlight that SMS Equipment is committed to working with key partners like Cummins to understand and support our customer's decarbonization requirements. We can then truly collaborate in delivering solutions and technologies with our joint mining customers. This recent announcement exemplifies that commitment and strengthens mining's pathway towards decarbonization and sustainable mining.

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