As the digital transformation accelerates, mining and metal companies will require investment, invention, new skills and capacities, and a well-supported motivated workforce to venture decarbonisation challenges.

With clean energy technologies being more mineral intensive than fossil fuel-based generation, the need to fulfil the growing demands of globalisation while appeasing investor and governmental pressure on environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) regards.

Most diversified miners have already specified environmental effect deduction marks associated with ESG pressures. Nevertheless, pressure on miners to decarbonise more aggressively may rise as better global steps will be required to satisfy the Paris Accord’s aim of restricting the global temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably to 1.5℃. Consequently, integrating circular economy visions and improved recyclability in the mining lifecycle will be integral to positioning any organisation for a sustainable future.

Lowering environmental effect, with an emphasis on cutting GHG emissions:

Numerous mining companies are beginning to move past recognising risks associated with carbon emissions and executing their decarbonisation goals. In terms of implementation, most miners are mainly concentrating on direct and indirect emissions and focusing on:

  • Functional efficiency refinements to downsize energy and water consumption; and
  • Electrifying processes, material movement and processing, and utilising renewable energy sources were attainable to minimise fossil fuels.

In addition, embarking the direct and indirect emissions, many businesses are now focusing on emissions indirectly caused by their value chains. This change in emphasis will need a new strategy that concerns exploring how cooperative connections with consumers, suppliers and other value chain partners could lower the footprint and enhance the recyclability of the commodity supplied.

Providing green and critical commodities for the energy transition:

Measures worldwide to substitute fossil fuels in electricity generation, transportation, and heat with cleaner, preferably renewable, fuel sources are fundamentally altering the market profiles of several commodities. While steel raw materials will dominate the project portfolios of many diversified miners over the next decade, the proportion of energy transition commodities increases. As a consequence, the market for the following commodities is anticipated to rise:

  • Copper – driven by growing electricity consumption
  • Lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite, manganese, vanadium, and zinc – driven by growing demand for batteries in electric vehicles and energy storage applications
  • Platinum, palladium, and other catalyst materials are driven by the projected growth in hydrogen fuel cells and global carbon capture and storage capacity.

Possible pathways toward the zero-carbon mine

Several possible paths to acquiring zero-carbon mines sometime between 2030 and 2040 will need substantial mine level investments and an accelerated technology push and 

commercialisation of the technology. There are short-, mid-, and long-term prospects for decarbonisation.

  • Short term measures: focus on cost-effective options with the technology known today. Improve and take operations to top-quartile levels; explore green energy alternatives, invest in renewable power; switch to existing drop-in sustainable fuels. During this first stage, up to 60 per cent of emissions can be decreased over the next three to five years.
  • Mid- and long-term opportunities:
  1. BEV Pathway: move to a fully electric mobile equipment fleet, with haulage trucks charged on a pantograph and others charged using a battery swap system.
  2. Hydrogen pathway: use a fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) mobile fleet, mixed with a buildup of green hydrogen capacity derived from solar or wind.
  3. Synthetic fuel pathway: keep existing equipment, but use drop-in synthetic fuels created from green hydrogen and carbon capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS).

Decarbonisation presents a remarkable opportunity for enterprising players to distinguish themselves and lead the way toward zero carbon mining. Numerous stakeholders need to design potentially cost positive abatement systems presently unattainable for this to happen at scale across the industry.

This has been authored by Bhakti Jain.

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