The quarrying industry is absolutely rocking it when it comes profits. As a £1bn industry in the UK alone, with an additional £5bn of revenue coming from the manufacture of mining & quarrying equipment in the UK, the quarrying industry is one which has seen sustained growth over the last few years. As with most industries however, past success does not guarantee future results. With an ever growing demand for industry around the world to pick up the slack and go green, does the quarrying industry have what it takes to future-proof the industry while protecting the environment around them? Is the quarrying industry ready for the future?
In short, the answer is ‘not entirely’. While steps have been taken to get the quarrying ready for the future, the quarrying industry faces the same problems that most industries using heavy machinery face. Namely, the problems of fuel supply, fuel prices and the resulting carbon footprint.
Most pieces of quarrying equipment come with diesel engines. While diesel is technically cleaner-burning than petrol, burning diesel is far from good for the environment – it may put out fewer waste hydrocarbons than petrol, but litre for litre it produces more CO2 when burned. Given how many pieces of quarrying equipment are in operation and the amount of diesel they have to burn to do the things they do, the quarrying industry as it stands comes with a rather substantial carbon footprint.
In an effort to combat this, several quarrying companies such as Sandvik Construction have moved towards using LNG as their primary fuel source. LNG (Liquid Natural Gas), also known as LPG (where the P stands for Petroleum) in the USA, is basically super-condensed methane stored in a high pressure cryotank. There are two major benefits to using LNG – firstly there’s the fact that LNG produces almost 1kg less CO2 per litre burned when compared to diesel. That’s roughly 37 per cent less carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere. Because LNG is 95 per cent methane by volume, you’re only producing CO2 and H2O by using this fuel – diesel on the other hand produces carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, unburned carbon particles (soot) and other hydrocarbons on top of the CO2 and H2O that you would get from burning anything. While diesel is cleaner than petrol, it is far from being clean.
The second major benefit that LNG presents over diesel is the fact the Shell Corporation has estimated that we have about 100 years’ worth of LNG buried worldwide. This massive abundance has dropped the price of LNG to the point where it is around 40 per cent cheaper than diesel. If nothing else, this is the main reason that clean-burning natural gas is turning heads in the industry.
With this in mind, why isn’t the quarrying industry ready for the future? Simply put it’s because the cryotanks holding the fuel are extremely expensive. The pressure valves responsible for holding the fuel in the tank and reducing the pressure of the gas as it enters the engine are made in fairly small volumes due to low demand. This means that refitting a fleet which is still in the middle of its lifespan is not economically viable. As more and more companies look to replace their equipment at the end of the lifespan, the demand for these tanks will increase, dropping the price of the equipment, making it more affordable for all.
So is the quarrying industry ready for the future? Not quite yet, but we are finally moving in the right direction.