Consortia breaking down mining’s resistance to change, summit hears

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(Left to right) Stacy Osenbaugh, John Mulcahy, Michael Lewis, Greg Joiner and Rob Derries on a Energy and Mines Australia Summit panel
‘The energy transition has changed the dynamic of how we engage in the development of new technology’

Miners stand little chance of hitting near-term decarbonisation targets – out to 2030 – without contributing in virtually unprecedented ways to collaborative research and development initiatives that have come to life in the past few years, an industry gathering of about 400 people heard this week.

The Energy and Mines Australia Summit in Perth, Western Australia, drew leaders from a number of the world’s major and mid-tier miners, power and infrastructure companies, equipment suppliers and some of the groups coordinating lab and field work aimed at accelerating delivery of enabling technologies, machines and systems to market.

The miners were there to spell out in more detail the steps they were taking – site by site, department by department, and region by region – to try to hit what have been described as ambitious step targets on the way to longer-term “net zero” decarbonisation ambitions that will underpin their green-metal supply credentials. They were also quizzed about their faith in various programs set up to fast-track delivery to market of foundational, but currently non-commercial, plant and equipment such as heavy-duty battery-electric and hydrogen powered vehicles.

One speaker said while the “need for mines to shift to electrification is approaching or at consensus” a common theme to “come out in every presentation and [panel] discussion is that there’s no single silver bullet technology solution to this. So that technology uncertainty remains a significant challenge, especially with mining operations having unique load profiles and reliability requirements”.

A broad shift to lower-emission, more efficient and possibly zero-entry mining and processing is also coming at a time when the industry is being recast as a crucial source of raw materials for the global energy transition.

“[As this summit has heard] the global transition to net zero is not possible without significantly more metals to support that transition, which means the industry needs to ramp up production quite considerably,” South32 VP, sustainability strategy and community, Holly Buschman said.

“This places a strategic imperative on the industry making major investments in exploration, production, processing and refining – all along that value chain – but in a responsible and sustainable way, which brings us to a really interesting dilemma that’s building.

“The industry needs to commit capital at a time when there is a greater level of uncertainty in the global economy than there has been in decades, owners are even more reliant on dividends for income, and prices are not necessarily incentivising investment.”

The summit heard about billions of dollars of current investments by miners in renewable energy projects and site-based energy efficiency measures.

It also heard repeatedly about a need to change gears on R&D, technology and innovation if the industry is to have a hope of simultaneously meeting a surge in demand for commodities, improving energy efficiency when the stars – including distance, depth and ore complexity – seem to be aligning against this objective, and reinventing its image.

“This is the topic that [can help] mining regain its leadership on the world stage,” OZ Minerals technology executive, Michelle Ash, said.

“I joined this industry more than 30 years ago because it was seen as a leader in some of those technical and social aspects.

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