Renewable Energy and the Mining Industry: Can They Coexist?

mining Africa - what the future holds for Simandou
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August 25, 2020

Exploring the Mining Sector’s Role in Climate Change

The natural resources of the earth are made up of air and water, soil, plants, animals, minerals, and fuels. Everything we need to survive comes from these resources. Some resources, like plants, can be replaced relatively quickly. Some, like trees, take a long time to grow back. Others are non-renewable, so once they’re used up they’ll be gone forever. Like fossil fuels and minerals.

A lot of this is running out and the mining industry has come under close scrutiny for their role in depleting these natural resources, as well as their role in polluting the earth through the mining of the resources, not to mention oil and gas also contributing to pollution. Going forward, the only realistic option for the world is to shift to sustainable solutions, like renewable energy. Let’s explore the role the mining industry plays in developing or destroying a sustainable future.

Mines are Needed to Extract Fossil Fuels and Minerals

This includes coal, oil, and natural gas. The world relies on these fuels to produce electricity, power vehicles, provide heating, and to cook. It’s also used to make products like plastics, nylon, cosmetics, cleaning products, and medicines, to mention but a few! These fossil fuels were created millions of years ago and once they’re used up, they can’t be replaced. Similarly, the earth’s raw mineral resources are in danger. Many of the mapped deposits have been depleted by mining operations. Ores are becoming harder to locate and extract and prices are skyrocketing.

Many of the mining methods used to extract fossil fuels and minerals devastate the environment. Animal habitats, plants, and soil are destroyed and toxic chemicals pollute the air and water. In recent years there has been a massive drive for more sustainable mining methods and a move towards using renewable energy – in line with the rest of the world. Despite all the positive repercussions, like reducing harmful emissions and saving money, this shift could negatively affect the mining sector. If coal and oil is no longer needed, how will the mines continue to operate? Will the industry be able to adapt and survive these changes?

Mines are Already Onboard with Renewable Energy

The industry is surprisingly adaptable! Mines and mining companies are already making use of renewable energy to power their operations, as well as supplying power to others, for example:

Mining Africa - renewable energy and the mining industry

  • Newmont Mining in Ghana, West Africa collaborated with CEP in deploying a solar power array at the Akyem Gold Mine in 2018.
  • Rio Tinto is running its Utah Copper Mine through wind power which is reducing its carbon footprint by at least 65%.
  • Barrick Gold completed a $50 million wind farm project in 2011. This was the first wind farm constructed by a mining company in Chile and supplies energy to the power grid.
  • Zaldivar Copper Mine in Chile operates 100% on renewable electricity and recently signed a contract to supply the area with electricity derived from renewable energy for a ten year period beginning in mid-2020.
  • The wind turbine at the Barrick Veladero Mine located in Argentina supplies up to 20% of the mine’s needs
  • In the United States in Western Nevada, Barrick Mines has a solar energy plant alongside its natural gas station.
  • South African mining company Goldfields is in the process of switching its mining operations at the Agnew Gold Mine in Australia to renewable power. The project is the largest hybrid renewable energy project to use wind power at a mining site.

As mining companies become aware that renewable energy is an affordable and sustainable solution, projects like this are driving renewable energy into the forefront. What’s more, mining companies are realizing how renewable energy technology can bring about positive change.

How Renewable Energy can Improve the Mining Sector

Renewable energy not only has the potential to change the world for the better, it can also have a significantly positive effect on the mining industry in various ways, for example:

  • Mining operations would be more cost-effective
  • More employment opportunities for mining engineers
  • A drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
  • Improved energy efficiency on mining sites

While the benefits of renewable energy have been widely publicized, not many people know how important the mining industry is to the success of implementing renewable energy infrastructure across the globe.

Renewable Energy Needs the Mining Sector

In a time where climate change is dominating the decision-making process of most industries, the mining sector is particularly challenged. However, metals and minerals are vital to creating the infrastructure for a renewable, energy-secure future. To store renewable energy, batteries need to be manufactured. A vital ingredient to batteries is lithium, which has to be mined. To create wind energy, wind turbines are needed. Copper is crucial to manufacturing wind turbines. Again, this is something that has to be mined.

Instead of focusing on the negative reputation the mining industry has, we should recognize the symbiotic relationship it has with the renewable energy sector. Without the mining industry, the renewable energy sector would face potentially insurmountable issues. Miners should commit to green initiatives and publish their successes, and eventually, consumers will notice their efforts and how the two industries can not only coexist peacefully, they need one another.

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