Date(s) - 03/10/2017
University of New South Wales
Sustainable Mining? No, but it can contribute to broader sustainable development goals
Presenter: Professor Jeremy P. Richards
Canada Research Chair in Metallogeny
Date & Time
Tuesday 3 October
Centre Lecture Block (CLB) 2,
UNSW Sydney (click here for a map)
“Sustainable Mining” was the suggested title for this talk, but really it is an oxymoron, because mining of non-renewable resources is by definition not sustainable in isolation. However, the raw materials produced by mining are essential for modern civilization, and it is the sustainability of that civilization that is our goal. Thus, mining’s impact should be measured against those larger goals. Assuming that humans continue to require mined products, then the main negative environmental impacts of mining are water and energy use (assuming physical impacts can be mitigated by engineering and remediation), while socio-economic impacts can be minimized or eliminated with careful planning and good governance. Minimizing water consumption by improved mineral processing methods and reuse is a constant challenge, spearheaded by mine developments in arid regions. That leaves energy consumption, which at one level is a simple cost, but if greenhouse gases are factored in, becomes a major global environmental impact (mining and mineral processing are thought to account for up to 7% of global energy consumption). Minimization of energy consumption through improved efficiency is a simple economic expedient, and innovations such as underground mineral processing and waste storage reduce hoisting costs and surface impacts. Switching to renewable energy sources is a clear option for mining operations, many of which are distant from existing electrical grids. Solar and wind energy are abundant in many of the arid and remote regions that modern mining currently takes place, and large-scale energy storage options are becoming a reality. Utilizing such resources makes mining operations independent of electrical supply, and minimizes greenhouse gas emissions. Solar-powered desalination plants also provide an efficient solution to water demand problems.
Whether mining then contributes to wider societal sustainable development goals largely depends on how the products and revenues from mining are used, which are choices made by people and governments.