Zero-Impact mining-balance today is possible

Increasingly under debate is the decarbonization of the mining industry, facing on the one hand a surge in the demand for raw material extraction mainly for the electrification market, however, aiming at the same time to remain true to the commitments on global sustainability. Will this balance ever be attainable? The topic is discussed in the fourth episode of BKT's talk show, Global Trends OTR

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To conclude the season, “Net Zero/Low Carbon Emissions”, the last episode of Global Trends OTR has just been released – BKT’s digital talk show, in which prominent guests deal with the most current topics in the OTR industry. The initiative has caught intense interest since its launch at the beginning of the year; the first three episodes about technology, automation and robotics, sustainability and alternative energy, have had a large following. Focus of the fourth episode is decarbonization and the achievement of Net Zero goals in the mining sector, one of the most talked-about topics around the globe, which is stimulating the spread of new initiatives and advanced technology solutions.

The guest of this last episode are: Thomas Koch Blank, Senior Principal of the Climate Aligned Industries program at the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), a project dedicated to developing and supporting innovative technologies for sustainable transitions; Alexander Allen, Director of Mining at Nth Cycle, a US technology company developing a sustainable solution for recycling metals from electronic waste (e-waste); and Bruno Santos, BKT’s Field Engineer for the OTR sector, responsible for Southwest Europe.

Why is the decarbonization of the mining industry so important?

This is the opening question answered by Thomas Koch Blank. Mining and mineral extraction are vital within the modern global economy, which is growing both in terms of population and wealth. According to Blank, the hence increased need for materials and infrastructures is jumping up especially in developing economies. Yet, sustainable solutions are at hand:

“Decarbonization of the mining industry can be achieved through recycling, which is the cheapest way to reduce the sector´s overall energy consumption. The emissions associated with mining activities stem from the energy employed to transform raw materials, and recycling avoids this part of the process.”

Blank also speaks of existing technological solutions to reduce or eliminate the use of carbon by means of the electrification of operations, even if there might be some problems in mines that are not connected to the power grid or having means and equipment unsuitable for direct electrification.

Although the goal of Net Zero still seems to be distant, the big underground mines are today almost entirely electrified, in terms of ventilation and transportation systems. At the same time, the search for sustainable alternatives never stops – among these, Blank highly counts on hydrogen, for example:

“Since mining communities generally operate in remote locations, it is possible to use hydrogen for trucks. You can also use it to process iron ore or titanium. What is more, by generating hydrogen, you obtain by-products, such as excess water and electricity, which can supply the local community and help mining companies obtain the permission to operate.”

 Alexander Allen, Director of Mining at Nth Cycle is the second expert guest featured in the episode. Nth Cycle is a technology start-up that aims to cut the monetary and environmental costs associated with traditional metal and mineral extraction and refining activities for electric vehicles, wind turbines, and consumer electronics:

 “Nth Cycle was created when we identified the need for a new method to meet the growing demand for critical metals,” Allen says. Our start-up can replace current refining technology, which includes large, capital-intensive, carbon-intensive processes such as pyrometallurgy, in which metals are basically melted down, or it can replace hydrometallurgical operations using large amounts of chemicals in a relatively slow process. All this can also be applied to a smaller, modular scale to refine metals at the source, in particular on mining sites or scrap yards.”

In the final episode, not to be missed BKT’s contribution in the final discussion through Bruno Santos, BKT Field Engineer for the OTR market, who provides useful insights from his international experience. Many are the initiatives that can help reduce the carbon footprint in the mining industry:

“There are initiatives from both OEMs and end users. Yet, from our viewpoint as a tire manufacturer, the OEM initiatives have a major impact: one can choose a larger fleet, which generally turns into less downtime and more productivity, and this is definitely what all mining companies aim at. As an alternative, one can opt for electrically-driven vehicles, which is a way to reduce fuel consumption.”

End-user initiatives also contribute to achieving Net Zero goals. A key example is the joint initiative between EQIOM, one of France’s largest suppliers of building materials, and Air Liquid, to build Europe’s first zero-emission cement plant. The plant will capture and liquefy the CO2 produced before pumping it into empty oil wells in the North Sea for storage or reutilization. An activity that in ten years is expected to avoid about 8 million tons of CO2- emissions.

This last episode closes the series of current issues in the OTR market. The initiatives, ideas, and suggestions presented in each episode have given rise to a large debate that continues beyond BKT’s virtual studio, fully hitting the creators’ goals, namely sharing, and people and projects being the cornerstones of the entire industry’s development.

Lights turn off till the next broadcast already scheduled for 2024. Good news for all who missed some episodes:  All episodes of Global Trends OTR can be reviewed on BKT NETWORK. Here is the link to the last episode: https://www.bkt-network.com/net-zero-low-carbon-emissions.

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