Energy and mining industry experts this week detailed how the mining industry is grappling with the technical challenges of transitioning existing, and preparing new, operations to become more efficient and integrating renewable energy sources to, eventually, facilitate net-zero emissions from the mining and production of mineral resources.
The solutions highlighted during the Energy and Mining Summit on February 22 included the use of renewable energy sources, and the associated challenges and opportunities; battery and heat energy storage; liquefied natural gas; coalbed methane; and a focus on energy efficiency.
Additionally, the experts highlighted how mines with long lives and mining companies more broadly are planning out their transitions over time to meet their internal commitments and global net-zero emissions targets.
However, the full impact of the energy transition is also reshaping supply chains, which is crucial to shaping a net-zero mining industry to supply the minerals necessary for future low-carbon economies.
Speaking during the 'Key considerations for switching to renewables' virtual roundtable, Botswana manganese mine developer Giyani Metals president and COO Derk Hartman emphasised that, as a battery metals mine developer, prospective buyers of its products have made it clear that the entire supply chain must become carbon-neutral for electric vehicles manufacturers to market and sell them as carbon-neutral.
"Half the weight of the car is battery, which includes the industrial metals. The feedback from potential buyers is that they want metals with the lowest carbon footprint possible. While developing our manganese mine [in Kanye basin, Botswana], we have developed a roadmap to become carbon-neutral by 2025 or 2026. While it is not feasible to start operations carbon-neutral, car makers and buyers want clear goals, such as [those set] out in our roadmap, as carbon-neutral products must start early in the supply chain," he said.
Diamond miner De Beers Group head of carbon neutrality Kirsten Hund, meanwhile, pointed out that the company also has clear goals to become carbon-neutral, by 2030, and to further improve the sustainability of its operations. However, as a directly consumer-facing business, it is experiencing direct demand from consumers and luxury brands to provide carbon-neutral diamonds.
"Our targets are earlier than most other mining companies because the pressure is there. Further, consumers and luxury brands do not want a 50% carbon-neutral product; they want a fully carbon-neutral product.
"Measuring electricity use and our emissions is the easy part. The challenging part is supply chain emissions [Scope 3 emissions]. This means that we must have close stakeholder engagement and constant communications with our supply chain to gather the [Scope 3 emissions] data and then see how it can be mitigated."
It will be difficult to achieve a 100% reduction in Scope 3 emissions, and 100% accurate reporting of these emissions is another challenge, she added.
Financiers to the mining industry are also reinforcing and driving internal environmental and emissions targets and the industry is also keenly aware of the urgency of all organisations, and especially large organisations, responding to climate change issues, said gold producer AngloGold Ashanti engineering, heavy mobile equipment, fuels, power and water commodity manager Oliver Milambo.
AngloGold started reporting on climate change issues in 2007 and has reported on its carbon intensity for more than a decade.
"Renewable energy will be the primary energy source for future generations and the mining industry, for which we are laying the foundations. Renewable energy technologies are also advancing rapidly, which can be inferred from the exponential drop in costs of solar power, as an example, with similar trends in other energy technologies.
"The environment is a key focus area for us, and we are at the point where everyone from big polluters to consumers must take action. These decarbonisation objectives dovetail with social objectives and mining community development. Not only can mining organisations, like us, employ and upskill local people, but, if there is an asset in place, such as a renewable energy plant, then it may be possible to leave this asset to provide power to the community," said Milambo.
AngloGold, as part of its decarbonisation strategy, aims to enhance the use of renewable energy at its operations and, where not possible, also improve efficiencies.
The final part would be to offset emissions that it cannot abate, and this can, in relevant cases, include developing either suitable conservation or carbon offset initiatives, with a special focus on establishing these projects within the communities and areas in which it operates, he said.
Meanwhile, the drive to decarbonise the mining industry includes mineral exploration. Exploration companies, while not subjected to external pressure that existing operations are, are also planning for carbon-neutral mines, says Zambian exploration company Insignia CEO Katambi Bulawayo.
"While pressure is not coming from external factors, we know that governments, including in the areas we are exploring, are talking about net-zero economies and the transition to a global green economy. The mining sector is very key to this transition, with some of the metals we are exploring for, including copper, cobalt and nickel, critical to this transition.
"We are developing roadmaps to be internally compliant with global mining industry decarbonisation trends, and to plan to leave a lasting positive legacy from mining," he said.
Additionally, these new mine developments can actively look at renewable energy sources from inception, as well as plan for longer-term considerations, such as linking to the national grid, to extend the grid to far-flung communities and to provide power back to the grid from these plants.
"We are looking at creating lasting legacies in the areas around mines. Given that our exploration activities are in Zambia and close to the Democratic Republic of Congo, we are looking at establishing agricultural activities in local communities. This can then also establish local demand for power and, if the mine cannot sustain the offtake of power, renewable energy plants can provide sustainable power to communities or the grid, as is suitable," Bulawayo said.
Meanwhile, he added that there was no conflict between aspects of economic viability and profitability, and environmental and net-zero objectives.
"We are beginning to see the emergence of legislation that will compel organisations that are not actively transitioning to carbon neutrality, and we would rather take the responsibility on ourselves than be compelled to do so at a later stage.
"The flipside, however, is that these global trends are likely to improve profitability. With the drive to a net-zero global economy, we are seeing metal prices reach record highs and clients are willing to pay a premium if we can demonstrate [environmental, social and governance] credentials based on global standards. This is a clear win-win for mining companies and the globe," said Bulawayo.