The carbon footprint of mining is not great. Since 1990, industry emissions of CO2 and methane gas have more than doubled, according to the federal government’s new National Greenhouse Accounts system.
But the issue of sustainable mining and net-zero targets has itself become an opportunity.
Tania Constable, CEO of the Minerals Council of Australia, says the mining industry needs thousands of new workers to sustain our $4 trillion investment in the critical minerals needed for climate change mitigation technologies.
This investment in regional and remote infrastructure has to be made anyway, and green alternatives are not only cost-effective, but also profitable.
The report, The Compelling Case for Decarbonisation: Mining a Low Emissions Economy, finds that the industry will benefit from the unprecedented shift in global demand. Lithium, graphite, cobalt and nickel are suddenly vital raw materials.
“By helping to meet the increasing demand for these resources, the mining sector can help Australia and the world achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 while continuing to create jobs and opportunities across the country,” says Rob Wilson , Executive Director of Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC).
“By decarbonising their operations, Australian mining producers can balance financial profitability with sustainability to position themselves as market leaders.”
Australia’s resource and energy export earnings are expected to reach US$405 billion in 2021-22, rising to US$419 billion in 2022-23. And the latest mineral exploration statistics support this. Exploration spending across Australia increased 23%, up $198 million to $1.05 billion. Record spending of US$673 million was recorded in Western Australia alone.
Iron ore attracted the most significant investment. But nickel and cobalt also recorded a 24% increase. It’s a boom that could help miners transition their own technology.
“Mining companies can benefit from the operational efficiencies and cost-effective energy solutions that underpin the transition to net-zero emissions,” argues the Compelling Case report.
The report includes guidance for miners to chart a path to sustainable mining and net-zero emissions. This includes measuring them, which technologies are available and which one fits which conditions.
New technologies will help in sustainable mining
“By sharing information on what has already been accomplished and examining the current and emerging technologies required from mining to mineral processing, we can build a shared understanding of the outstanding issues and begin working together to create momentum to find the necessary solutions,” says Nicole Roocke, CEO of the Minerals Research Institute of Western Australia (MRIWA).
In a case study, the report shows the economic returns offered by electrification of mining plants and equipment.
Mining relies heavily on energy-dense fuels such as diesel and gas. And its distance from grid-tied power has made it unattractive as an alternative. But the drastic fall in the cost of solar, wind and battery systems and the range of manufacturers for electrically powered alternatives now make it possible to do without emission-intensive fuels. And where electricity doesn’t work, hydrogen-based technologies often can.
“If we are to reap the benefits and make meaningful contributions to reducing emissions, it is time to put the plan into action – what we need is significant investment, innovative market development and accelerated emissions targets,” the report concludes.