Making mining sustainable requires an ecosystem approach in which mining sector supply chain partners and service providers play their part to ensure mining benefits people, the planet and is profitable for companies, says mobility multinational Michelin Africa, India and the Middle East head of mining Fabien Taillardat.
He cites Michelin as an example of a company in the ecosystem playing its role in furthering the development of sustainable mining practices and solutions.
The company's services, including its Michelin earthmover management system (Mems), tyre design and advice to customers, help mines and mining companies to operate more sustainably by reducing unplanned failures and maintenance, improving operations and profitability and thereby reducing the impact of mining, he notes.
Mems monitors, in real-time, the pressure and temperature of tyres of earthmoving machinery and haul trucks, can signal when a failure is imminent and can measure the undulation of haul roads and the cornering of haul trucks.
The capabilities of the system help mines make their hauling as efficient as possible by improving haul road designs and moving materials in fewer hauls, which reduces operating costs and greenhouse-gas emissions from equipment, he explains.
Crucially, the wider sustainability revolution will not be possible without mining to provide the copper, manganese, lithium and cobalt required to produce electric vehicles, renewable energy equipment and battery energy storage systems and it is, therefore, important to mine sustainably, says Taillardat.
Africa has many of the minerals that are needed for such applications, as well as significant quantities of the world's reserves, and the continent will take a leading role into the future to provide the world with the minerals it needs to develop and sustain renewable and environment-friendly systems.
Further, the major mining houses have made significant and notable commitments to sustainability, with most aiming to achieve carbon neutral operations by 2040 or 2050, says Michelin mining business line global account manager Hein Venter.
Additionally, Africa hosts some of the most advanced mining practices and equipment and there is a growing recognition of the importance and growing demands from customers to reduce environmental impact and mine more sustainably.
Sustainability is a key element of the long-term strategies of mining houses, incorporated into their global views and practices. Miners, correctly, take a balanced approach to sustainability to ensure that gains achieved are sustainable, embedded into operations and propagated to other sites as appropriate, he says.
Technology is a key enabler of applying practices to achieve sustainability goals and harnessing technology is important to monitor operations to garner insights of what can be improved.
Africa and multinational mining houses operating on the continent have some of the most advanced equipment and practices available worldwide in place. The latest equipment provides significant data to analyse, monitor and improve operations, says Venter.
"Africa is not behind at all, and mining houses have processes in place that are focused on improving efficiencies and productivity with technology and data. For example, autonomous mining vehicles are not only used in Australia, but greenfield underground mines in Africa are adopting the use of autonomous vehicles. If the mining sector in Africa can hold to this vision, then I predict a great future for mining in Africa," says Taillardat.
Meanwhile, Michelin has committed to ensure that its tyres are made from 100% renewable sources of raw materials by 2050, and has implemented its sustainable natural rubber farming initiative, which stipulates strict sustainable farming practices and monitors the practices of rubber farmers and producers to ensure that the raw materials are produced sustainably, ethically and in an environment-friendly way.
"Up to 80% of the environmental impact of tyres throughout their lifecycles occurs during their use. We conduct extensive lifecycle assessments of our products to ensure we know where they impact on the environment and how to reduce this.
"Through this process, and our more than 6 000-people-strong research and development teams, we have developed tyres that last longer, while providing the same or better performance and safety, and we provide services to ensure that the impact of tyres is minimised during use by maximising their effectiveness," explains Taillardat.
Further, Michelin and Swedish recycling company Enviro Systems are building a tyre recycling plant in Chile, which will be able to completely recover raw materials from 30 000 t/y of waste tyres, which equates to about 60% of the volume of tyres produced by Michelin that are scrapped each year, says Venter.
The recycling plant will use renewable energy to power a pyrolysis process to recover carbon black, steel and base oils from the tyres. The development of the plant in Chile was driven by legislation requiring, and facilitating, demand for sustainable recycling solutions for scrap tyres.
South Africa is drafting a waste tyre management plan, and Michelin is ready to partner with local companies and government to drive the process, he says.
"Michelin is focusing on making its own operations, solutions and products sustainable and also helping our customers to meet their sustainability goals," says Taillardat.
However, each mining site is different and has different requirements to improve efficiency, performance and, consequently, sustainability, which makes the role of supply chain partners and service providers more important to design and recommend solutions and interventions specific to the need to improve the efficiency and sustainability of the mining site.
"Sustainability in a company must translate to specific ambitions in each business unit and, in the mining business, regardless of commodity, there is a need to reduce the environmental footprint of operations."
Michelin aims to ensure its products are actively managed throughout their lifecycles and across the entire value chain with the intention to transition to a circular economy. This approach includes renewable energy generation and minimising impact during use and after the end of life of a tyre, says Taillardat.
"We serve as a partner for our mining customers and help them with their efforts to mine more sustainably and we work collaboratively with them to reduce the environmental impact of the operation," he concludes.