Avalon's Nechalacho project wins industry award for use of solar energy

The Nechalacho project east of Yellowknife has won an award for best use of renewable energy at an exploration site.

'We were able to save a lot of diesel consumption,' says Avalon's vice-president of exploration

The rare earth exploration project known as Nechalacho is located at Thor Lake, about 100 kilometres east of Yellowknife. (Avalon Advanced Materials Inc.)

The Nechalacho project east of Yellowknife has won an award for best use of renewable energy at an exploration site.

The rare earth elements project is largely at a standstill, but that didn't stop Avalon Advanced Materials from winning the award at the Energy and Mines' Renewables in Mining Awards in Toronto on Nov. 21.

"It's a remote site. It is very expensive to get diesel there because you have to fly there," said Bill Mercer, Avalon Advanced Materials' vice-president of exploration.

"If diesel costs like $1.20 a litre in Yellowknife, by the time you get to the site it is more like $2.50 a litre."

'It’s very nice to get an award like that, to get the recognition,' says Bill Mercer, Avalon Advanced Materials' vice-president of exploration, about the Nechalacho project winning a renewable energy award. (CBC)

Mercer said the company slashed its use of diesel at Nechalacho by installing a series of solar panels, a battery bank, and inverters.

"Ours was a special case because people don't normally look at renewable energy at the exploration stage," said Mercer.

"We were able to save a lot of diesel consumption."

Mercer said the battery bank also provided a reliable electricity source that allowed the company to replace inefficient, hard-to-control diesel heaters with special digitally-controlled diesel heaters.

"You dial in the exact temperature," Mercer said. "They dropped the diesel consumption to like a tenth of what the other heaters were using."

Solar panels at the Nechalacho project. The panels power a battery bank that helps power digital diesel heaters. (CBC)

The company installed about 10 digital diesel heaters at camp. Mercer said each heater saved the company about $1,000 per week compared to the old heaters.

In Toronto, Mercer accepted the award on behalf of Avalon. Mercer said he is thankful to the Northwest Territories government for its guidance and financial support for small-scale renewable energy systems. He also recognized the hard work of Avalon employees who put the system together.

"It was a big challenge for them because it is not something you do every day. It took a lot of learning on how to install it and how to run it. Those guys did a great job," Mercer said.