The mining industry is often associated with massive pits either excavated into the ground or underneath the surface. Concern about the environmental impact of extracting minerals has existed for some time and shows no sign of abating. Despite big strides in technology, according to the World Bank, over 11% of global energy consumption comes from the mining, minerals and metals value chain. Changing this demands a serious rethink of the way minerals and metals are processed and mined.
The scrutiny on mining companies is as broad as it is concentrated, picking apart everything from corporate stewardship to the commodity mix. Shareholders are demanding better returns on less capital with a smaller environmental footprint. The winds of change have hit mining, but blustery conditions are not always a bad thing.
The temptation is to jump straight to the conclusion that the energy transition is an existential threat to an emissions-intensive industry. After all, meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement depends on retiring carbon-intensive activities. The movement towards low emissions technologies, such as battery storage, electrification, microgrids, wind and solar power, depends on the mining industry to provide the materials needed for this shift.
Simon Yacoub, the vice-president for strategy and transformation at Worley says that as we head down the electrification and energy storage path, we will require a different mineral mix. The minerals of the low emissions future include lithium, cobalt, iron ore, manganese, aluminum, nickel, lead and graphite. But the single most important mineral that will enable electrification and electron mobility is copper. Copper is critical in low emission and electric vehicles, energy transmission and storage, and renewable energy technologies that harness the sun and the wind. Essentially, sustainable development cannot be achieved without these minerals. Customers demand new energy expertise to establish affordable, reliable power to these mines, while technology is the biggest enabler to make the energy transition a commercially viable pathway.
Where there is uncertainty, there is opportunity. Greg Miller, a senior vice-president for mining, minerals, and metals at Worley, says the energy transition can’t happen at the speed we need it to unless we embrace better technologies to design and run mines. At the same time, the need to improve overall sustainability and the social license to operate remains paramount. Worley’s NextOre mineral sensing technology can help pinpoint the highest-grade material from a conveyor belt or truck and provide real time grade readings in seconds.
The opportunities for technological advances in a mining setting are endless. Mines can now use virtual reality for site training, 3D printing for spare parts manufacturing, predictive analytics platforms to manage safety and conduct aerial inspections of mine sites using drones. This equates to increased safety, productivity, and less carbon emissions, and assists the sector to do its bit to reach the targets of the Paris Agreement and decarbonise the mining process.
Contact Heather Warren, Worley, email@example.com