As the global push towards a carbon neutral future accelerates, it is also becoming increasingly clear that the green energy shift will be mineral intensive, as a score of critical metals and minerals underpin 21st Century green energy technology. It’s not too much to say that shifting green depends on a revolution in materials science.
Acknowledging their responsibility, the mining sector and associated industries have made significant capital investments and have been harnessing the materials science revolution to meet increased expectations of consumers, society and governments to sustainably and responsibly support the shift.
On a broader level, in a recent post, Seeking Alpha points to the European Copper Institute having found that the “copper industry reduced CO2 emissions by 60% from 1990 to 2020 by investing in efficiency and reducing energy consumption.”
The post adds: “(…) the green initiatives have just started: nowadays, mining of ‘green’ metals (which are metals produced with renewable energy sources and sustainable practices) is a new way to address emissions in the sector,” and points to low-carbon aluminum produced using mostly renewable energy sources, as well as low-carbon nickel.
Meanwhile, a significant disconnect persists in certain circles about both the importance of the mining industry in the green energy shift, and the strides companies have made to reduce their environmental impact. Overcoming that disconnect is the main reason ARPN continues to highlight specific sustainability initiatives in extractive and associated industries. These range from overhauling supply chain policies to ensure suppliers conform to certain environmental and social standards, to incorporating renewable power sources into their operations to offset some of the carbon costs of resource development. (Take a look at our latest roundup here.)
As Congress is weighing legislation that could bring significant changes for critical mineral resource policy, the time has come for another roundup:
- U.S. miner Alcoa has partnered with Alumtek Minerals, a Brisbane, Australia-based company that has developed a a process to extract critical minerals including gallium, vanadium, hafnium and rare earths from bauxite tailings. Having received a grant from the Australian government, the companies will collaborate with a Western Australian government research hub in the hopes to advance the processing technology from proof of concept to full production.
- As part of its full-value mining initiative, global miner Rio Tinto is also targeting waste tailings as a source for critical minerals and other useful consumer products. According to Bloomberg, the company is “currently figuring out ways to extract up to ten so-called critical minerals from copper waste at its mining facility in Utah,” and in Australia, has partnered with the University of Queensland and Queensland Alumina to bioengineer bauxite residue known as ‘red mud’ into an eco-friendly plant-sustaining soil. Meanwhile, to reduce its carbon footprint, the company is looking to construct a brand new [additional] solar plant at is Weipa bauxite site, in Queensland, Australia. Contracting with energy supplier EDL, the company aims to triple North Queensland local solar power generation with the new plant.
- According to Engineering and Mining Journal, “Rolls-Royce and Flanders Electric have agreed to develop a retrofit solution for hybridizing mining-class haul trucks with mtu [motor-and-turbine union] engines, batteries and hybrid control systems, and Flanders drive train solutions.” A recently-signed Memorandum of understanding between the two companies enables them to “offer a scalable retrofit kit for hybridizing mining trucks in a wide range of mining applications.”
- In its efforts to operate more efficiently and sustainably, China-focused mine Silvercorp began constructing a one million tonne-per-year waste rock treatment plant which turns waste produced at its flagship Ying multi-mine project into aggregate. The company is further exploring the use of mine tailings in the manufacture of ceramic products.
These examples provide just a single snapshot into sustainability initiatives underway at this point in time, but of course more can, should, and is being done. Count on ARPN to continue to feature these initiatives going forward.