Innovative technologies being developed in SA and Scandinavia to increase mining’s sustainability

10th May 2022 By: Rebecca Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

Innovative technologies to help the mining and minerals processing sectors transition to low-carbon operations and sustainability were the topic at a business breakfast hosted by the Embassies of Denmark, Finland and Sweden, in Cape Town, on Tuesday. The event was held on the fringes of the Investing in African Mining Indaba 2022 conference.

Finnish Ambassador Anne Lammilla highlighted that Denmark, Finland and Sweden were all leaders in innovative environmental protection technologies. Finland and Sweden were also mining countries, operating in hard rock environments, the working of which had also required the development of innovative technologies. And while Denmark was not a mining country, it had nevertheless developed technologies that reduced the environmental impact of mining.

She also stressed that this was the direction that South African mining companies were already moving in. She cited Anglo American’s recent unveiling of the world’s largest hydrogen-powered truck as an example.

She further noted that the need, already identified in South Africa, to apply automation and robotics to mining, to allow the safe exploitation of deeper ore bodies, would ultimately increase the skills levels in the South African mining sector. Denmark, Finland and Sweden had already developed Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies that increased safety and sustainability in mining.

South African Mineral Resources and Energy Department chief director programmes and project management Elizabeth Marawa affirmed that inclusiveness and sustainability represented very important agendas in the country’s mining industry. These agendas included energy efficiency and low-carbon energy, both essential to ensuring the sustainability of the sector and to making certain that it was a sunrise and not a sunset industry.

Achieving sustainability also required that all be included, particularly the young, women and rural communities, she pointed out. Most South African mining companies were already doing this.

Bringing down mining’s carbon emissions would also require a ‘grand coalition’ between government and the industry. “Mining is very energy intensive,” she noted. “It’s going to be [an issue of] an energy-mining nexus.” And there would have to be a clear strategy to retrain workers as old technologies were replaced by more efficient, modern ones.

South African minerals processing and beneficiation research and development agency Mintek group executive Marieke Gericke pointed out that all renewable energy technologies were ultimately dependent on mining. She showcased some of the technologies it was developing to increase efficiency, reduce waste, cut carbon emissions and so increase the sector’s sustainability.

Areas in which the organization was working included minerals processing, recycling and metals recovery (including the recycling of electronic waste), treatment of acid mine drainage and mine rehabilitation. Mintek had already developed a number of successful technologies in these areas, was currently testing yet more, while others were still in the early development stage. One example she cited was research being undertaken to decarbonize the processing of manganese, by changing the energy mix. (This project was receiving funding from the European Union’s Horizon programme.)