Rio Tinto inks power deal to supply its ilmenite operation in Madagascar

26th July 2021 By: Donna Slater - Creamer Media Contributing Editor and Photographer

Diversified miner Rio Tinto has signed a power purchase agreement for a new renewable energy plant to power the operations of its QIT Madagascar Minerals (QMM) ilmenite mine in Fort Dauphin, southern Madagascar.

The renewable energy plant, to be built, owned and operated by independent power producer CrossBoundary Energy (CBE), over a 20-year period, will consist of an 8 MW solar facility and a 12 MW wind energy facility to power mining and processing operations.

The renewable energy plant will comprise more than 18 000 solar photovoltaic panels and up to nine wind turbines, located in the Port Ehoala Park area.

The power plant will supply all of QMM’s electricity demand during peak generation times, and up to 60% of the operations’ yearly electricity consumption.

Construction is expected to start later this year, with the solar plant scheduled to start operations early in 2022.

Construction on the wind power plant will start early in 2022 and it will become operational by the end of that year.

There will also be a lithium-ion battery energy storage system of up to 8.25 MW as reserve capacity to ensure a stable and reliable network.

The power project will significantly contribute towards Rio Tinto’s operations in Madagascar, thereby helping the miner achieve its carbon neutral objective by 2023.

The project is part of a broader initiative to reduce the ilmenite mine’s environmental footprint, which includes programmes that focus on emissions reduction, waste and water management, carbon sequestration, ecological restoration and reforestation.

In addition, the plant’s capacity will enable QMM to replace the majority of the power it currently supplies to the town of Fort Dauphin and the community of around 80 000 people with that produced by renewable sources.

QMM president Ny Fanja Rakotomalala says the project is a “strong” example of the operation’s commitment with the government of Madagascar to the sustainable development of the region.

“On a sunny and windy day, all the electricity needed by QMM and the Fort Dauphin community will be generated by the Malagasy sun and wind. It is a major step forward on our journey towards a truly sustainable mine, that protects and promotes the uniqueness of Madagascar’s environment and benefits the community with reliable and clean electricity.”

Madagascar Ministry of Energy and Hydrocarbons Secretary General Andriatongarivo Tojonirina Andrisoa says the government is committed to the energy transition and to enabling Madagascar to become energy independent, as stated in the President’s Initiative pour l’Emergence de Madagascar (IEM).

“QMM’s renewable energy project . . . is fully aligned with that vision. It makes Madagascar a global reference point for the use of renewable energy to supply clean, reliable power in the mining sector and other industries, and to the community.”

Rio Tinto Minerals CE Sinead Kaufman says that, with this flagship project, QMM is leading the way at Rio Tinto and in Madagascar in using renewable energy to power mining operations and reduce carbon emissions.

CrossBoundary Energy co-founder and managing partner Matt Tilleard says emissions from electricity use in mining are estimated to account for about 1% of all greenhouse gases, globally.

He adds that Rio Tinto is “leading the way” in demonstrating how mines can seize a huge opportunity to reduce these emissions.

“We are focused on delivering cleaner power to businesses and were, therefore, able to offer Rio Tinto a flexible, fast, all-equity funding approach, combined with our reliable record as one of Africa’s largest distributed renewable utilities.”