Mining Companies Adopting Sustainable Practices to Build a Greener Future

Mining Companies Adopting Sustainable Practices to Build a Greener Future

The mining industry is pioneering a sustainable future as valuable as the resources it extracts.

As we move towards a more sustainable future, many industries are taking steps to minimize their environmental impact. One such industry is mining, which involves obtaining valuable minerals and geological materials from the earth’s deposits. 

A study assessing the impact of mining on each country’s gross domestic product (GDP) found a significant annual range of environmental damage costs, varying from US$0.427-5.3 trillion. The main factors contributing to these expenses are emissions such as greenhouse gases, particulate matter and acidification, which are predominantly associated with coal and steel industries. China and India have the highest environmental costs due to their extensive material extraction and processing operations. India also bears significant climate-related damages caused by global material production.

In modern mining, surface mining and underground mining are two primary methods. Surface mining involves using explosives to extract ores near the earth’s surface. However, this method can have severe environmental consequences, often leaving massive open pits behind. It also leads to loss of biodiversity, erosion of soil and contamination of surface water, groundwater and soil. 

On the other hand, underground mining involves blasting tunnels into rock formations to access ore deposits deep underground. While this method can be highly effective, it also comes with significant risks, such as miners becoming trapped underground. Also, underground mining can release toxic compounds into the air and water. This can result in contaminated water that pollutes the region surrounding the mine and beyond. Surface mining results in eight to ten times more waste and debris being released into the environment than underground mining.

Mining, minerals and metals organizations are facing increasing pressure to implement sustainable practices while continuing to provide the essential resources required to support a more sustainable world. The industry’s environmental impact is significant, with mining alone being responsible for 4-7 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, without a sustainable approach, achieving global CO2 reduction targets will be a challenging task.

Pioneering sustainability initiatives

With a growing emphasis on sustainability, many companies are aiming to reduce emissions and reach net-zero goals by 2050, except for a few companies that have set earlier targets. Fortescue, Australia’s third-largest mining company, and De Beers, the world’s largest diamond producer, have announced their net-zero Scope 1 and 2 emissions targets for 2030. Additionally, Sibanye-Stillwater, a multinational mining and metals processing group and The Mosaic Co, a crop nutrition company, have set their targets for 2040. Scope 1 refers to direct emissions from sources owned or controlled by a company, such as burning fossil fuels for heat or power generation. On the other hand, Scope 2 emissions come from purchased energy, including electricity, steam, heating, and cooling. 

Another notable example on this list is the British mining company Anglo American, which is  developing the world’s largest hydrogen-powered mine haul truck for its South African Mogalakwena platinum group metals mine. The 2-megawatt hydrogen-battery hybrid truck is part of the company’s nuGen Zero Emission Haulage Solution. What makes this truck revolutionary is its ability to transport a massive payload of up to 290 tonnes, surpassing the power output of its diesel predecessor. The nuGen™ stands out from other haulage solutions as it provides a comprehensive green solution for hydrogen production, fuelling and haulage, with the green hydrogen being produced on-site at the mine. 

Hindustan Zinc, an Indian mining and metal company, has also implemented a comprehensive digital transformation program across its value chain to encourage a sustainable future. The company uses technology at every stage to make real-time decisions (to avoid wasting resources), promote renewable energy and improve resource efficiency and safety practices. 

Then there’s the South African mining company Gold Fields, which has set forth an ambitious goal in sustainability. The company plans to increase its renewable energy usage from the current level of 11 percent (which includes hydropower) to a total of 22 percent by the year 2025. By achieving this goal, Gold Field will contribute to a cleaner environment and set an example for other companies.

Promoting sustainable mining practices and regulations

Aside from advocating for sustainable practices, the mining industry can significantly minimize its ecological footprint by implementing sustainable practices, such as efficient material usage and less intrusive mining techniques like block caving and in-situ mining. Block caving uses gravity to extract minerals from steep, deep ore bodies. In-situ mining involves drilling boreholes in the ore body and using chemicals to dissolve mineral deposits. Additionally, using eco-friendly equipment, like battery-driven instead of diesel-driven options and demonstrating responsible site restoration, can also help minimize their environmental footprint.

Developed mining nations can also implement more stringent mining and environmental laws to minimize the impact of mining, including provisions for mine closure and associated reclamation and rehabilitation of mined land. Taking swift action to shut down illegal or unregulated mining activities would set a positive environmental precedent within the industry. 

A good example is China, where, before 2010, many mines operated without environmental regulation, causing harm to nearby areas. In response to public outrage and in self-interest (to safeguard political stability), the Chinese government implemented the Rare Earth Industrial Development Policy to ensure that mining practices were more environmentally friendly and to discourage any illegal mining activities. In India, the Mineral Policy aims to regulate the mining sector development and promotes eco-friendly mining techniques with the help of advanced technologies and community participation in decision-making. 

It is encouraging to see that more and more companies are making a conscious effort to adopt sustainable mining practices. By implementing eco-friendly mining practices, companies can reduce their negative impact on the environment, which ultimately helps to preserve natural resources and mitigate the effects of climate change.

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