Modern world wouldn't have smart phones, wind turbines, toothpaste without mined minerals
Mining and the minerals are integral to modern society and really matter for the growth and development of South Africa.
Chamber of Mines of South Africa senior executive Roger Baxter has pointed out in talks to the media, mining and minerals are an essential component for sustainable development in modern economies.
While minerals like oil, gas, coal and uranium energise the modern world, voguish gadgets like today’s smart phones could not function without a fair quantity of copper, silver, gold, palladium, platinum, ceramics, titanium dioxide and lesser know tongue-twisters like indium tin oxide.
Another ubiquitous modern society product, the car, contains close to a ton of iron and steel, 100 kg of aluminium and 19 kg of copper. Interestingly, the more environmentally friendly hybrid requires double the copper, roughly 34 kg.
Again on the green front, Baxter points out that a 2 MW wind turbine contains some 300 t of steel, 5 t of copper, 3 t of aluminium and requires the casting of about 1 200 t of concrete, the cement for which requires limestone that is mined and stone that is quarried.
Moreover, to replace replace a single 3 000 MW coal-fired power station – which is half the size of South Africa’s many six-pack stations –15 000 MW of wind turbine capacity needs to be provided, which would require the equivalent a 2 MW wind turbine being sited every 240 m between Durban and Cape Town.
Further, the modern compact fluorescent light bulb, which represents a move towards a more energy-efficient economy, needs mined minerals like bauxite, lead, copper, limestone, nickel and phosphorous.
Even the toothpaste contains silica, limestone, aluminium, phosphate, fluoride and titanium and women’s make-up mined mica and talc.
Baxter reminds us that “if it can’t be grown, it has to be mined, and outlines the intricate link that mining has had in human development down the years, starting with the ancient Egyptians 4 500 years ago.
Mining supported ancient China and the Romans even allowed private ownership of mining operations.
In the 18th century, the mining and burning of coal raised the steam that powered the industrial revolution and limited liabilities legislation of the UK enabled companies to raise capital for mining globally.
Some of that flowed into our own South Africa and provided the critical mass to allow this country to become Africa’s most industrialised country and accounting for 30% of the continent’s gross domestic product and 40% of its electricity supply.
But South Africa is only the world’s fifth-largest mining country. The top spot belongs to China, the mining industry of which is nine times larger than South Africa’s. China is currently the world’s largest mining country, followed by the US, Australia and Brazil and produces three-billion tons of coal a year compared with South Africa’s 250-million tons a year.
The minerals currently in the biggest demand at the global level are coal, followed by copper in second position and iron-ore third.