Using data to drive action is, in part, the philosophy behind OREN, a venture created in collaboration by Shell and IBM, which leverages the OREN Data Platform to bring together innovative third-party technologies to provide mining customers with bespoke solutions to their digitalisation challenges.
In particular, more and more mining operators are beginning to see how digitalisation, alongside the improved collection and analysis of the reams of data they produce, can enable them to meet their decarbonisation ambitions.
"We know that mining companies are under pressure to decarbonise," Strahlman continued. "Net-zero targets have to be met [but] we also know that rare earth minerals are critical to power the energy transition [and that] the pressure from customers, investors and society is pretty clear to extract these minerals in the most sustainable way possible.
"That said, processes are actually becoming more energy intensive and expensive: mines are deeper, the ore quality is worsening, and the cost of capital can be 20 to 25% higher for companies with lower ESG scores.
"So, you have this kind of triple threat of increasing demand, increasing operational costs, and net-zero targets. To meet those three challenges, we believe that you need to adopt innovations in and modifications to current processes, and one of the fastest ways to address all three is actually through digital solutions."
A threefold solution
The OREN value proposition, as described by Strahlman, is also threefold. First, there is the OREN Data Platform, which has been built alongside IBM. This platform "ingests, integrates and processes data, pretty much from any source of any quality, to help automate that process and give better insights that support better decision making," according to Strahlman.
On top of that foundational data platform sits the suite of OREN Integrated Solutions, or ‘apps', that are implemented at customer sites on a SaaS (software as a service) basis. "These are then the solutions that actually solve problems or the challenges that the customer has around decarbonisation," Strahlman explained.
Finally, OREN works with existing, proven technologies that are carefully curated by the OREN team to complement the newly developed Intelligent Solutions.
All three parts of the OREN offer focus on better and more refined use of data to help solve the individual problems that clients present, with decarbonisation a common and recurring theme.
"We are seeing that customers are moving from building decarbonisation strategies to starting pilots in the next two to three to five years. And we've spoken to the industry and we know that across the value chain 80% of the mining customers' pain points are actually very similar, in that they need to decarbonise and they want to adopt digitalisation as an enabler," Strahlman said.
"The reason that we in OREN are focusing on digital solutions, [rather than] emerging technologies, is that digital is relatively quick to implement, and is available in the short term, while the technical readiness levels and really even having supply and manufacturing at scale of some of the other decarbonisation technologies can take time - for instance, the electrification of mine operations or hydrogen as an energy source. And second, digital solutions can actually enhance and enable that transformation journey for the mining customer."
An example of how this approach helps is with the electrification of mining sites, something that large numbers of OREN customers are grappling with. In practice, this involves large parts of a mine's legacy infrastructure - such as haul trucks - needing to start communicating with the grid and with energymanagement systems on-site. "The way you ensure energy usage and supply is balanced is actually by integrating new sources of data and operational activity to the mine-management systems, and again digital platforms are the way that you do that," Strahlman said.
Reducing manual activity
OREN offers two ready-made solutions for customers that highlight the improvements in processes the OREN Data Platform can bring about. These solutions focus on tailings-storage-facility management and emissions management. On top of tracking and improving on ESG metrics, both solutions target operational efficiencies using data collection and analytics tools to greatly reduce manual activity - by around 20% in the case of the OREN Tailings Storage Facility solution and 30% for the OREN Emissions Management solution.
With emissions, collecting data in a more targeted and efficient way is the first - and possibly most important - part of the process of reducing them. As one OREN mining customer put it: "Everyone says we need to reduce our emissions, but no one knows what they are."
While improving and automating data collection processes is one part of OREN's approach to emissions, another is that this data can then be used to help a mining operator continue its decarbonisation journey.
Strahlman said: "The other tangible benefit is that once you know where those emissions hotspots are, we can either recommend operational efficiency solutions through OREN or alternative technologies through Shell, such as switching to a low-carbon fuel, building access to renewable-energy sources if that's what they want - there's a whole selection of solutions."
To de-risk and streamline the adoption of new technology for the customer, OREN is offering to sponsor free customer pilots to implement custom dashboards for either emissions or tailings-storagefacility management to give a dynamic view of past performance and projection against targets, saving up to US$100,000 in implementation fees.
Fitting individual customer need
If the customer is looking for bespoke capability or complex solutions, OREN also leverages the IBM Garage Methodology when working with customers. This includes a detailed visualisation phase, where it works with customers to identify ‘as-is' and ‘to-be' scenarios relating to the specific process that is being redesigned and digitised.
Strahlman said this approach, which is a longstanding methodology at IBM, is crucial to producing meaningful results: "The overarching benefit of OREN is the kind of modularisation and customisability I've talked about. And what that means is that we can really get quite deep into understanding what the problem areas are to make sure that the solution really hits exactly what the customer needs.
"So rather than getting something off the shelf that may meet 80% of their needs, we really can ensure that it's 100%."