Irrespective of where you come down on the political spectrum, there is no denying that we find ourselves in the midst of a green energy transition. At ARPN, we have long made the case that the current push towards a lower-carbon future is not possible without mining, as green energy technology relies heavily on a score of critical metals and minerals.
Testifying before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources chaired by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) this fall, Dr. Morgan Bazilian, Director of the Payne Institute and Professor of Public Policy, Colorado School of Mines told committee members:
“The future energy system will be far more mineral and metal-intensive than it is today. Many of these advanced technologies require minerals and metals with particular properties that have few to no current substitutes.
The opportunity for the mining industry is tremendous. An industry that has experienced enormous public pressure and critique, accompanied by offshoring production overseas, can now evolve into one fundamental to supporting a shift to a low-carbon and sustainable energy system based on domestic natural resources.”
Representing one of the most “energy-intensive industry” on the planet, mining companies are increasingly “recognizing their responsibility and trying to meet the increased expectations of consumers, society and governments,” as Fleming Voetman, VP for Public Affairs at the International Copper Association outlined earlier this year. Advances in technology, make it possible increasingly to restore a balance between mining and environmental protection, and the industry is working to meet the challenge.
Sustainably greening the future begins with responsible sourcing, an area where consumer electronics companies like Ericsson and mining companies like Rio Tinto have been overhauling their supply chain policies to ensure suppliers conform to certain environmental and social standards, and companies like consumer electronics maker Phillips and mining company Teck are supporting local communities.
The World Bank’s Climate-Smart Mining Initiative, a new program designed to help “resource-rich developing countries benefit from the increasing demand for minerals and metals, while ensuring the mining sector is managed in a way that minimizes the social, environmental and climate footprint” also ties into this context. As part of the initiative, earlier this year, the World Bank’s “Climate-Smart Mining Facility” – a multi-donor trust fund with the initial backing of the German government, as well as private sector companies Rio Tinto and Anglo American – was launched. The trust fund has the stated goal of “help[ing] resource-rich developing countries benefit from the increasing demand for minerals and metals, while ensuring the mining sector is managed in a way that minimizes the environmental and climate footprint,” and will support specific projects aimed at helping developing countries and emerging economies devise and implement “sustainable and responsible strategies and practices across the mineral value chain.”
But it does not end here. In an effort to offset some of the carbon costs of resource development, mining companies have started to incorporate renewable power sources into their operations. These include, for example:
• Rio Tinto looking at incorporating renewables and battery storage into its main mining sites in Australia, for example as part of its $1 billion upgrade for its Pilbara ore project
• Fortescue Metals having partnered with a power utility to – with the backing of the Australian federal government – help power its Pilbara operations with solar energy and battery storage
• Gold Fields planning to predominantly operate its Agnew gold mine in Western Australia (WA) using renewable energy by partnering with a global energy group and investing in an energy micro grid combining wind, solar, gas and battery storage
• Antofagasta partnering with a utility company to turn its Zaldívar mine into the first 100% renewable energy-powered Chilean mine with a mix of hydro, solar and wind power
• Rio Tinto looking to reduce its carbon footprint at its Kennecott Utah copper mine by as much as 65% through the purchase of renewable energy certificates
These are just a few examples, and we can expect more companies to follow suit in the coming decade.