For a prosperous and transitioning world, minerals are ever more essential to aid in the decarbonisation of our energy supply. The global low-carbon revolution is pushing the use of fuel cells, batteries, wind turbines and solar panels, all requiring large quantities of minerals and metals. Coupling this with the growing population and increasing economic wealth of that population, this leads to an ever growing demand for minerals that must be produced sustainably. This article discusses the growth in mineral demand and how Beca can help with the transition to sustainable mining.
For thousands of years mining has supplied the world with the raw materials required to support growing communities. However, traditional mining is no longer the sole provider of these raw materials, and it is becoming clearer just how much the role of sustainable practices, new generation fuels, energy efficiency and secondary mining are going to shape the industry’s future.
With the added focus of the climate emergency, carbon intensive extraction industries such as mining face ever growing pressures to justify their existence and maintain their social licence to operate in a world where many people were already concerned about environmental, social and governance performance.
Why do we need mining?
Minerals and metals are essential to almost all aspects of life, enabling farming, healthcare, communications, infrastructure, transport and energy supply. To put it simply, the modern world cannot function without the supply of raw materials produced from mining. However, while material recycling or ‘urban mining’ is starting to provide an alternate source of materials, increased demand for minerals and metals due to population growth, the green energy transition, electrification and urbanisation are significant factors in why we continue to need raw material mining.
Minerals and metals are essential to almost all aspects of life, enabling farming, healthcare, communications, infrastructure, transport and energy supply. To put it simply, the modern world cannot function without the supply of raw materials produced from mining.
Two key drivers of future mining demand are an ever growing and developing population and the green energy transition. The United Nations forecasts a global population increase from 7.7 billion to almost 11 billion by the end of the century, with most of this growth taking place in developing countries where many people are also moving out from under the poverty line. Therefore, it is expected that in the next 15 years there will be approximately three billion new “middle-class consumers” with the necessary purchasing power to buy electrical and electronic devices.
Alongside this, it is expected that the global EV stock will need to jump from 1.2 million passenger cars, to 965 million passenger cars between 2015 and 2050 to meet the demands of a decarbonised future. Be it nickel for EV batteries, or copper for solar panels, the need for the products of mining is not reducing or even plateauing. In fact it is increasing with population growth and it is increasing exponentially as products become cheaper and many more communities have the means to access them. The fact is, we need mining to support global economic growth in the pursuit of a decarbonised world.
The need for the products of mining is not reducing or even plateauing. In fact it is increasing with population growth and it is increasing exponentially as products become cheaper and many more communities have the means to access them".
Secondary or urban mining is the process of extracting valuable metals and materials from electronic or metallic waste. However, the recycling process is imperfect and for some materials the technology or knowhow does not yet exist to allow them to be recycled. Circular supply chains need to be pursued; however, degradation of material properties and inefficiencies of supply chains to procure e-waste means that recycling alone is not enough to satisfy demand. For example, when aluminium is recycled, impurities result - sometimes from material degradation, but often from external factors like other metals or paint being mixed in.
Some aluminium applications such as circuit boards or aerospace demand pure material, so these recycling impurities can restrict the product’s potential downstream use. In addition, as metal products often have a long service life – for example, steel used in buildings - there can be a limited supply of suitable used metals actually available for recycling, relative to the overall demand. Materials recycling will be a critical feature of future sustainable development, but primary metal production will need to continue to fill the gap between the availability of secondary material and total demand.
What is the future of mining?
Historically, mining has involved the extraction of minerals and metals from the earth using tools and machines largely powered by fossil fuels. But the traditional mining landscape is changing rapidly and the deeply ingrained processes and philosophies that have underpinned the industry in the past are not going to be tenable in the future. Greener mines, energy transitions, fuel switching, urban mining and robust transparency with end consumers throughout the supply chain are proving more and more to be critical features in sustainable business growth.
Green mining and sustainable development are vital for any form of social licence for the continued growth of the mining industry. Green mining is defined as the use of new “technologies, best practices and mine processes … to reduce the environmental impacts associated with the extraction and processing of metals and minerals”. Major economies, along with a number of established and junior mining companies around the world, have already pledged their commitment to a sustainable reduction in emissions. Therefore, we must continue to embrace decarbonising technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence, metals recycling, electrification, and alternate fuel sources such as bio-solids and hydrogen fuel cells.
We must change our best practices to consider renewable energy sources such as wind turbines and solar panels at all stages of design, and where we are unable to eliminate carbon producing processes, we must invest in carbon capture and storage methods such as sequestering carbon into dry stacking tailings. These technologies work together not only to reduce carbon footprints, but also to improve energy efficiency, reduce costs and create a safer working environment. In short, the future of mining will rely heavily on the adaptation of new technology to give the industry its social licence to operate through being less carbon-intensive, safer, more productive, efficient and sustainable.
The future of mining will rely heavily on the adaptation of new technology to give the industry its social licence to operate through being less carbon-intensive, safer, more productive, efficient and sustainable.
Resource scarcity and the global imperative of a low-carbon future is driving the development of circular economies and urban mining. Today, the largest and most rapidly growing stocks of some metals are the ‘metals in use’ – there are vast quantities of electrical and electronic waste remaining unrecovered worldwide. Urban mining is cheaper, more sustainable and easier than ever before, with e-waste metal deposits being 40-50 times richer than ore extracted from mines. Urban mining and circular economies are required to help alleviate some of the worldwide demand for raw materials, however to tap into this resource and make any meaningful contribution to resource supply, advancements in technology along with greater governance surrounding the collection, import and export of e-waste must be developed to ensure the efficient, ethical, socially responsible and environmentally sustainable recuperation of these metals.
The mounting pressure for greater corporate social responsibility within the mining industry is yielding a global quest for increased transparency with end consumers. A clear example of this is EV manufacturers pushing for sustainable practices, socially responsible contracts and the application of ethical principles . The adoption of new technologies and green mining practices will not be able to be just a tick box for corporations to comply with governmental regulation. Rather it’s a critical aspect of maintaining and securing new business. The global low-carbon revolution and the social change it’s demanding from and end users alike, is forcing rapid revolution of the mining industry. The future of mining is a decarbonised, transparent and sustainable industry driven by the green energy transition and mounting social pressure.
The future of mining is a decarbonised, transparent and sustainable industry driven by the green energy transition and mounting social pressure.
How we can help
A radical transformation of the mining industry is upon us, prompting us to challenge the conventional and promote innovation in the journey towards a decarbonised future - and Beca’s sustainability and industry specialists can help provide you with the options and answers to get there. Carbon footprinting, decarbonisation road maps and other innovative processes are just some of the tools being used throughout the business to provide our clients with clear and practical advice on how to reach their carbon reduction targets.
The first step is to identify your baseline carbon footprint and create a high-level sustainability strategy across all pillars of sustainability - environmental, social and economic. Following on to support your environmental sustainability goals, our decarbonisation planning specialists will help you to develop a step by step and specific decarbonisation roadmap. The process begins with an examination of the process flows, energy use and a more detailed assessment of the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions of the current operation. Energy demand is then reviewed and large emission producing assets are identified.
To support your environmental sustainability goals, our decarbonisation planning specialists will help you to develop a step by step and specific decarbonisation roadmap.
Opportunities to minimise energy use are explored through automation, process optimisation and the introduction of new technologies. Finally, energy transition, fuel switching or other renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are considered. Studies illustrating this process include PT Vale’s Dryer Optimisation Study and OceanaGold’s Energy Transition Accelerator (ETA) programme.
Furthermore, we are using innovative ideas such as OceanaGold’s mine restoration using biosolids and the Beca Rock-It™ process to sequester CO2 into dry stacked tailings to tackle our clients’ emission producing sectors and help make a contribution to global decarbonisation goals.
To transform the mining industry into a more sustainable industry will require wholesale change, but we are passionate about supporting our clients to get there! You can read more about our Decarbonisation Planning services here.