The largest climate initiative starts in the mine

May 31, 2021
Three different photos in one, the robot dog Spot, a mine vehicle and two persons in a room with screens

The mine of the future will be carbon-free, digitalised and autonomous. LKAB’s transformation for a sustainable future involves an initiative that could become Sweden’s largest ever industrial investment – but more than that, it’s also the biggest thing Sweden can do to reduce global emissions.

“When we’re done, we will reduce carbon emissions among our customers globally by 35 million tonnes. That’s equivalent to two thirds of Sweden’s total emissions. To succeed we need to break new ground as regards how the mining of the future takes place,” says Michael Palo, Senior Vice President of business area Iron Ore at LKAB.

LKAB has a long history and since it began in 1890 it has undergone major changes, with the company being a driving force in building up the backbone of the country’s industry. Through continual development and innovation, step by step LKAB has been able to mine deeper and climb up the value chain to secure competitiveness in the long term.

Now, the business is to be transformed to deliver the carbon-free iron that is necessary to build the electric cars, wind turbines and electric motors essential for a global transformation. “It starts in the mine. We are nothing without our ore reserves, and we need to secure and safeguard those for the future. To be profitable long term we need to be constantly exploring new methods and ways of working. It’s about using groundbreaking technology to work at great depths in a sustainable, efficient and safe way,” says Michael Palo.

A new world standard for mining operations

As an important step along the way, LKAB has started an industrial development project along with ABB, Epiroc, Combitech and Sandvik with the aim of setting a new world standard for sustainable mining at great depths.

The project calls for a completely new type of collaboration: a digital ecosystem, in which the parties link up both digital systems and operations. A test facility is to be established where new technology will be developed and tested both in a real mine environment and in a virtual test mine. The tests are being carried out to ensure that the Swedish mining industry continues to be competitive in the future, providing jobs and growth both locally in Norrbotten and nationally.

“We know that we have an important role and a great impact on society. That’s why we need to raise our sights and work closely with others to develop new solutions. We need to interact both internally and with other operators. We have a long and difficult journey ahead of us, and technological development and digitalisation are essential if we are to succeed,” says Sofia Nagander, section manager of the Digital Transformation Office at LKAB.

Digitalisation is key to transformation

In the work to transform the business, it is crucial that the flow of information is always available and reliable. This enables better and faster decisions to be taken and the degree of automation to be increased.

New ways of working are made possible as 3D maps of the mines make it easier to visualise the work and analyse risks. The machinery used in the mine is also becoming more autonomous and interacting more, so staff can track the work going on in the mining area without having to be there – making the operations both safer and more efficient.

“We are testing out new ways forward all the time. One of our new co-workers is the robotic dog Spot, which uses AI technology to help us sniff out risks in environments that might be dangerous for humans to be in. Spot provides further support for ensuring a safe workplace and will make life in the mine easier, more efficient and more enjoyable,” says Nagander.