New breakthrough science and cost reductions from the world of cleantech hold promise for making mining—one of the dirtiest, most inefficient industries in the world—more profitable, safer and cleaner. But which cleantech innovations aimed at reducing toxicity in mining, as well as the need for power and water, are best positioned to succeed? Which companies will win and which will lose? How can existing players manage risk in the face of new innovation?
Big questions. We try to address them in a new research report on green mining technologies, recently published.
As important as mining is to society, techniques and equipment that were first developed in the early 1900s are still standard in many modern mining facilities today. Mining is one of the last holdouts of dirty, inefficient industry that’s just waiting to be revolutionized by new breakthrough clean technology. Latest innovations and cost reductions in cleantech hold promise for making mining more profitable, safer and better for the planet.
While there are clear benefits to mining companies implementing new technologies, there is risk involved with new technology. New technology—like bioremediation of mine tailings (the often toxic output from mining processes) or electrochemical water treatment—has historically struggled to find footholds in mining because companies generally don’t like taking the risk of adopting new, unproven technology until others have. That attitude is now changing, as companies are increasingly motivated by dramatic new economic benefits promised by new green mining breakthroughs.
Propositions for green mining across the mine life cycle
The permitting process for opening new mines in most areas of the world is long and costly. Some companies are poised to reinvigorate the process with cleantech innovations aimed at making permitting faster and less expensive by reducing toxicity, power and water requirements. Mine closure costs, at the other end of the mine lifecycle, are being minimized by new remediation technologies. Other technologies promise other economic benefits.
In our research, we found important new innovation taking place in the following areas related to both hard rock (e.g. gold, silver) and soft rock (e.g. coal) mining:
- Power reduction
- Comminution efficiency (i.e. breaking large rocks into smaller ones)
- Low power separation (i.e. separating minerals/metals from ore)
- Hydrometallurgical processes (processes for separating minerals/metals from ore that don’t require large inputs of natural gas or electricity)
- Other alternative processes
- Fuel and maintenance reduction
- Equipment route optimization (i.e. software helping mining companies plan the most efficient routes for their mining vehicles)
- Fuel additives/filters
- Natural gas conversion
- Electric conversion
- Improved lubricants
- Polymers and coatings
- Training simulators (i.e. reducing fuel and maintenance expenses by training operators using immersive flight simulator-like equipment)
- Other fuel reduction approaches
- Toxicity reduction
- Non-cyanide separation (i.e. not using cyanide, but biology to extract minerals/metals from ore)
- Emissions reduction
- Dust management
- Particulate sequestration
- Carbon sequestration
- Water reduction
- AMD/ARD remediation (i.e. addressing acid mine, or acid rock drainage, the acid created when large amounts of exposed iron-rich rock comes in contact with water… creating an orange slurry that kills vegitation and animal life)
- Water filtration/reuse
- Wastewater processing
- Tailings remediation
The state of mining innovation today – drivers for cleantech