It’s been a little while since my last Banks Blog was published. Since the last blog, so much has happened globally and indeed within the company – my time at the Banks Group is flying by! I’m grateful for all the opportunities to see how the different business areas at Banks work. It has become obvious to me we have experts from such a wide range of fields and a great working culture to go with this expertise. Collaboration between our experts has led to the company successfully tackling a great number of projects over the years in mineral extraction, renewable energy and property development sectors.
So far, I have spent time with Banks Transport learning about distribution of our minerals, helped the engineers out with drone surveying on our mining sites, become familiar with drilling and blasting and much more. I have enjoyed all these experiences and they are certainly different to the average placement. I’m sure most placement students don’t get to fly drones.
This blog is about something that is part of my own role at The Banks Group – assessing the group’s greenhouse gas emissions. As an environmental and sustainability co-ordinator, greenhouse gas emissions and carbon accounting forms an integral part of my role here at The Banks Group. As part of the wider issue of sustainability, assessing and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions is key to what we are currently doing at Banks and what we will do in the future.
Climate change is still prominent in the media and is an issue we simply cannot ignore. A holistic approach from a broad range of public and private sectors will be needed to make progress towards achieving the UK’s aims of net zero carbon. In July 2019, The UK government announced a target of becoming net zero carbon by 2050 after it was recommended by the Committee on Climate Change, the UK’s independent body that provides advice on climate change. The target has been adopted in law, so it will require large scale change to achieve the target. The UK became the first major economy to announce plans to reach net zero. The target the UK has set is to reduce emissions by 2050 by 100%, replacing the old target of reducing emissions by 80% of the 1990 levels. To achieve ‘net zero’ we will need to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions to an absolute minimum and means that any emissions produced must have schemes in place to offset the equivalent amount of emissions from the atmosphere. For example, emissions produced may be offset by carbon capture technology or absorbed by planting trees. The greenhouse gas hierarchy helps us to prioritise the measures that we can take in our business that will have the most benefit in terms of GHG reduction. Actions higher up the greenhouse gas hierarchy have a larger impact on reducing emissions. All companies and organisations, including Banks Group, should prioritise actions that fall in higher areas of the GHG hierarchy. All of the Banks Group’s business areas will have a major role to play in working towards reducing our GHG emissions if we are to reach net zero, so we have been working to establish our current position and how we can further reduce our own GHG emissions using the hierarchy and provide a range of sustainable mining, property and energy solutions in future.
The graphic above shows the GHG hierarchy can be used to prioritise actions to reduce emissions from our business.
Alongside the domestic target, the UK also ratified the Paris Climate Agreement which aims to strengthen the global response to climate change, mitigate the effects and target a maximum global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels this century and pursuing all means to keep the warming below 1.5°C of pre-industrial levels. We are in a transition towards a low carbon future. Banks Renewables has a strong track record in successful development, construction and operation of a fleet of onshore wind farms supplying clean electricity to the UK grid to supply homes, schools businesses and hospital and to keep our lights on. We operate a fleet of 10 onshore wind farms located in the north of England and in Scotland with an installed capacity of 224MW of clean green electricity. Banks Property develops new communities incorporating new residential and commercial uses within landscaped amenity areas and Banks Mining has successfully worked and restored and landscaped over 111 surface coal mines.
Our surface mines have transitioned from supplying most of our coal to UK power stations to the position today where are providing coal to focus on supplying coal to a range of essential industrial customers that still use it in the UK and for which there is no current coal-free alternative including raw steel and cement production. Our mines also supply fireclay which is needed for brick production.
We are currently reviewing our Development with Care Policy and approach to responsible business practice aligning our objectives where appropriate to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Sustainable development has to be achieved globally for every one of us on earth to prosper. In 2015, the United Nations replaced the Millennium Development goals with 17 Sustainable Development Goals, addressing a range of global problems like poverty and food security, climate change, social injustice, inequality, lack of education and others. The UNSDGs are set to be achieved by 2030 by the governments that ratified them in 2015, but the goals can also be supported by companies and individuals who support making the world more sustainable. Much of the work we do as part of our Development with Care approach is already aligned to the UN SDGs and we are looking for ways to increase our alignment to agree and work towards achieving our priority SDGs. To explain more about how Banks is already working towards the sustainable development goals, I will write a blog on this subject in the coming weeks.
What are greenhouse gases?
Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and trace gases such as sulphur hexafluoride. The reason behind the name ‘greenhouse gases’ is the effect these gases have in the atmosphere- think of the Earth’s atmosphere as one large greenhouse. These gases absorb infrared radiation in the earth’s atmosphere. This process is natural – the Earth’s surface reflects the radiation from the sun and the greenhouse gases trap this radiation, keeping our planet at a stable temperature. The global warming comes from anthropogenic (man-made) greenhouse gases exacerbating the natural greenhouse effect and creating climate forcing, where the Earth’s surface and atmospheric temperature both increase- this is the issue the human population currently faces and is the reason why we are committed to a transition to a low carbon sustainable energy mix and why we produce renewable energy to the UK grid.
Greenhouse gas emissions sources
The table above shows The greenhouse gas emissions covered by the Kyoto Protocol along with some natural and manmade sources of these gases.
The graphic above shows how the naturally occurring greenhouse effect works: Greenhouse gases in our atmosphere trap radiation from the sun, heating the surface of the planet and the atmosphere. Source: https://medialibrary.climatecentral.org/resources/the-greenhouse-effect
We strive for continuous improvement in energy efficiency, as well as increasing our renewable energy output. We collect, analyse and interpret a wide range of data relating to emissions from all Banks Group activities so that we target interventions based on this data. For example, we have assessed the efficiency of all of the plant on our surface mines, selecting the most efficient equipment to carry out our operations.
For the past three years at the Banks Group, we have been monitoring our greenhouse gas emissions. Each financial year, we work closely to quantify the emissions from that year. Before 2019, it was not a legal requirement to report greenhouse gas emissions, but the Banks Group chose to do so because we are committed to making improvements in efficiency and reducing our emissions. The annual greenhouse gas reports are a great way of identifying areas where we can make improvements and tracking the success of the measures taken.
An important element in understanding greenhouse gas reporting, is knowing that all emissions are reported as tonnes or kg of CO2e. CO2e is carbon dioxide equivalent. There are six greenhouse gases recognised by the Kyoto Protocol; carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride. Each greenhouse gas has its own global warming potential (GWP) which is a measure of how much radiation the gas can trap. The higher the GWP for a gas, the more heat it can trap and therefore the more warming it can cause. Emissions come from a wide range of sources, but to keep reporting consistent, all emissions are converted to CO2e. Emissions coming from other gases are converted into units relevant to CO2e, which is the universal standard method of reporting greenhouse emissions.
A large part of my role as an environment and sustainability co-ordinator is preparing the raw data behind the greenhouse gas emissions reports, produced and accredited by an independent environmental consultant. I collate our activity data which is a measure of all our Group’s activities, including fuel usage on our plant, and by our company cars and HGVs and the tonnes of ANFO (ammonium nitrate fuel oil, the explosive we use for blasting) we have used on mining sites, the electricity we have used in our offices and much more. All this data is pooled together, so we can produce an accurate report of our total greenhouse emissions for each financial year.
The reports include details of our ‘scope 1’ and ‘scope 2’ emissions. Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions coming from activities within the company’s control, this could be fuel used in our company cars and HGVs, or our natural gas consumption to heat some of our offices. Scope 2 are the indirect emissions that occur as a result of the way that the electricity we use in our offices and on our sites was generated. The activity data for each emissions source has an associated emission factor. The emission factors are published every year by the BEIS and DEFRA and cover a wide range of activities. If a particular activity is not included in the BEIS/DEFRA emission factors, we work with the consultant to select the most accurate emission factor available. Emission factors may change annually, for example, the emissions factor for scope 2 electricity changes depending on the energy mix fuelling the UK grid. The emission factors are a measure of how much CO2e each activity can release. To quantify emissions from a particular activity, the equation used is:
Activity data (units) x Emissions Factor (kg of CO2e per unit) = GHG emissions (kg of CO2e)
The emissions from each activity are then added up to give the total emissions for each financial year. It is important that I input accurate data, to ensure that we have high confidence in the accuracy of the reports. Reports are created every financial year based on our operations. We have also prepared GHG reports for our proposed developments which have been submitted along with a planning application. These reports are based on predictions of what operations at the development may look like, for example, a prediction on how much electricity will be used on site during the operations. The reports for proposed developments are worst-case scenario predictions and once a site enters operations, the emissions produced by the site are significantly lower than the report originally predicted.
Overall, in the past three financial years, the Banks Group greenhouse gas emissions have decreased. We have implemented strategies across the business, from small things like removing plugs at night, to big things like replacing plant and machinery with more efficient units.
The bar graph above shows the financial intensity of The Banks Group over the past three financial years, which has shown positive performance.
One metric that we use to assess improvement in GHG emissions is our financial intensity which is tonnes of CO2e per £million revenue. Financial intensity is a good unit of measurement to analyse how emissions change because of the business expanding. We are pleased that over the past three financial years, our financial intensity has decreased, meaning we produce less emissions per £million of revenue.
In our mining operations, we have also increased our efficiency. To accurately report on our operations, we have chosen the metric of tonnes of material handled per tonne of CO2e. ‘Material’ means anything we move on site as part of our operations; coal, stone, shale, soils and clay, whether we are extracting or restoring. This metric allows us to identify how much material we are moving per tonne of CO2e that we produce and the higher this figure, the more efficient our mining operations are. As the figure below shows, we have improved our earth moving efficiency over the past three financial years, moving more material per tonne of CO2e.
The bar chart above shows Banks Mining’s efficiency ratio for the past three years. Over the past three years, we have moved more material on site per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent.
The graphic above shows example sources of each scope of greenhouse gas emissions for The Banks Group.
The consideration of scope 3 emissions is also useful for analysis of greenhouse gas emissions. Scope 3 emissions are emissions that are produced not directly by the company’s assets or activities but do arise indirectly within the value chain of the company. These emissions may include the emissions arising from the use of mineral products, emissions arising due to employee business travel, emissions arising from our waste products from our operations and emissions arising as a result of the UK grid electricity losses. Scope 3 emissions can again be measured using the BEIS emission factors. For example, we measure the greenhouse gas emissions of our mineral products, using emission factors that vary depending on their use. We don’t include scope 3 emissions in our greenhouse gas reports, but we do analyse and interpret them and work with our supply chain to limit them, again boosting our efficiency. In the future, decarbonisation of the UK electricity grid, transportation and other industries such as manufacturing will mean scope 3 emissions will decrease.
The bar chart above shows the emissions produced from mining and transporting 822,000 tonnes of coal from Russia, Australia and our proposed Dewley Hill site in Throckley, Newcastle.
Specific to The Banks Group, scope 3 emissions for the Banks Group include the transportation and use of the minerals that we extract. Transportation emissions from coal and clay being delivered to customers are vastly smaller when the minerals are mined in the same country as the industry, compared to importing coal from all over the globe. Last year, 86% of UK coal was imported, creating much higher amounts of greenhouse gas emissions because of the coal being shipped to this country from Russia, USA, Colombia and Australia. When we mine coal and fireclay in the UK, the coal is transported to UK-based steel and cement manufacturers (as just two examples of our customers) and the fireclay supplies local brickworks via HGV and/or rail, producing far less greenhouse gas emissions than shipping the coal over thousands of miles from overseas. Scope 3 emissions from the use of these minerals remain very similar, no matter where the mineral is imported from. For example, if coal is being used in steel manufacture, it is used in blast oxygen furnaces as a reductant for iron ore. If the coal used in the furnace is Russian, Colombian, Australian or British, the emissions arising because of this process will be the same. Where we do have control- in transport emissions- is where we need to focus and we can reduce these emissions significantly.
The reports are useful for analysis as the data is broken down into sectors of our business. The data is also presented alongside previous year’s data so that we can identify where we have made improvements and target further improvements. The data can also be separated by site for further analysis.
The pie chart above shows the breakdown of Banks Group’s emissions from financial year 2019.
To reduce our emissions, we have implemented a number of measures across our business. One example of this is selecting the most efficient earth moving plant available in our fleet. For example, our fleet of dump trucks contributed 44% of fuel usage on site from 2017-2019. The dump trucks on our sites haul rocks, soil, coal and fireclay from areas of excavation to storage and back, so they’re essential to our operations. We are focussed on improving the efficiency on our earth moving operations, meaning that we want items of plant like dump trucks to haul as much material as possible, whilst using the least amount of fuel possible, which leads to a positive material handling efficiency, as discussed above. We select the trucks that are most efficient in fuel usage, alongside other factors like payloads, safety, tyres and maintenance. As well as procuring efficient trucks, we will focus on site design to help improve the efficiency of our operations. Changes in site design can help not just our dump trucks, but all the mobile plant equipment operating on our sites to be more efficient whilst operating. Reducing the gradient of haul roads, improving the maintenance of haul roads (ensuring they are smooth), increasing the speed of excavation are all aspects of site design that can be used to increase the efficiency of our mobile plant. Furthermore, our plant operators are trained in how to operate their respective items of plant to a high level of efficiency.
To track the efficiency of our earth moving operations, fuel and operational data is monitored by software. The quantities of fuel, distance travelled and hours of operations are all measured, as well as the payloads of material shifted by our plant fleet. Using this software, we can closely monitor the performance of our fleet to plan maintenance, meaning our fleet is always ready to perform. Earth moving and mineral extraction is an intensive industry essential to produce the commodities and deliver the infrastructure that the UK needs. The development of alternatives to hydrocarbon fuels is a huge opportunity for the earth moving, mineral extraction, construction and road haulage sectors to reduce GHG emissions. Alternatives such as hydrogen and electrification for the larger items of earth moving plant may be some time away right now but transforming plant and earth moving equipment into low carbon machines may be a solution to reducing emissions for the minerals and construction sector. Other solutions for making earthworks, construction and mineral extraction more sustainable may include carbon capture and storage, whether this is passive, by using vegetation to sequester emissions or active, by pumping carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it underground, it still remains years away. Scaling this technology from the small-scale pilot solutions that currently exist to be an applicable and robust solution will require years of development and investment, but if it becomes large scale it will certainly have the potential in our industry.
Each sector of our business has responsibility to limit their environmental impact and this is not limited to our three business areas. Staff working in our offices have responsibility to be aware of how their actions at work (and at home) have an environmental impact. At Banks Group, our staff are very proactive and conscious of how their actions affect the environment.
Displacing GHG emissions from the UK’s electricity generation grid
Our annual greenhouse gas reports also account for the emissions from other parts of our business. which identify, assess and improve on our efficiency as a business.
Our onshore wind farms generate GHG emissions-free electricity and we compare this clean, green electricity to the emissions that would be produced from the same amount of electricity being produced by the UK grid, which includes gas, renewables, nuclear and coal. I mentioned emission factors previously in the blog. In 2020, the emissions factor for UK grid electricity is 0.23314 kg CO2e per kWh of electricity generated. In 2019, this figure was 0.2556 kg CO2e per kWh of electricity generated. The UK grid still produces emissions from energy generation because there is still fossil fuels (mainly gas) used in this generation. As the UK continues to decarbonise the electricity grid, these emissions will reduce and the emission factor for the UK grid will also decrease to reflect the smaller proportion of fossil fuel electricity generation in the UK. In our financial year 2019, Banks Renewable onshore wind farms produced over 290million kWh of clean electricity. If this amount of electricity has been produced by the UK grid mix, it would have resulted in over 74,000 tonnes of CO2e. We are really proud to be displacing GHG emissions from the UK grid entering the atmosphere and are excited to continue to develop our renewables business to produce more clean and affordable energy.
In a really important time for environmental protection and greenhouse emissions I can see that Banks Group has shown that our operations are contributing to reductions in the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. Whether it is producing renewable and clean energy to the UK grid, designing sustainable new communities or efficiently producing the minerals and delivering the earthworks that society needs, we have the future in mind. Our innovation is the reason behind our strong environmental performance. I am really pleased to be at a company which is environmentally responsible, offering intelligent solutions to the global climate emergency whilst fuelling our economic growth and industries.
By Harry McCabe, environment & sustainability co-ordinator, October 2020