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The future of mining – the green revolution's sharp end

10 May 2022 | Insight
Legal Briefings – By Jay Leary

Unbeknown to many, the mining sector holds the key to the technological development needed make the globe greener.

Mining is a significant driver in the advancement of communities. As the world begins its slow transition to decarbonisation, the production of green technology needs to significantly increase and mining plays a central role in this revolution.

To produce the items needed to transition, the world needs to supercharge the production of minerals such as:

  • copper (used in almost every technological device),
  • nickel (used in batteries, phones, computers),
  • cobalt (used in advanced tools and lithium-ion storage batteries)
  • and rare earth minerals (used in a range of green technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels, as well as in electronic equipment).

Many of these minerals are currently at  subdued levels of production and so to meet the future demand required for a more sustainable future, we need a substantial increase in mining. Like previous phases of major advancement, the mining industry is essential.

While the long-term demand for many mining commodities is strong, there are obstacles to overcome. Not all future-facing commodity mines will be economic - for example, some critical minerals are found in small quantities and difficult geological conditions, making the costs of production challenging.  Aligning the right technology and resource will separate the successful projects from the unsustainable in all senses. Meanwhile, some critical minerals are located within proximity to other industries and communities. As Rio Tinto experienced in relation to a proposed lithium mine in Serbia, people tend to support critical mineral mining until it is in their own backyard. There will no doubt be places where it is’nt appropriate to mine. There are however numerous examples where mining has successfully co-existed with other industries and communities.

Though there have been exceptions, most of the mining industry cares about its local relationships and acknowledges the standards of environmental and societal performance required in operations often exceed that required by law.

Another challenge facing the industry is reducing the carbon emissions that are generated by the mining process itself. As with many industries, that journey has begun, but has a long way to go. To achieve carbon emission goals, we will be reliant on new technologies. While those technologies are yet to be developed at operational levels, history suggests such developments can be made rapidly when investment matches rhetoric.

The mining sector has much to be proud of but also several challenges to face, most notably defining its role in creating a greener globe. In achieving success, it will be important for the sector to meet the rising expectations of communities.

And for those who see the mining industry as a good area to invest, remember: not everyone who has a critical minerals project will be a success.

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