A zero-emission copper mine is a reality. But you will need JFK’s attitude of ‘moonshot thinking’

Mankind has always made giant leaps when the aspiration has been huge and audacious. John F. Kennedy’s famous speech about the moon landings was all about that attitude – sometimes called moonshot thinking. “We choose to go to the moon and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” he said.

Copper is powering the renewables revolution

Ashley Brinson is the Executive Director of the Sydney-based Warren Centre and invokes JFK because, he says, that’s the kind of thinking necessary to imagine a world where zero-emission mines are possible.

A new copper age?

But first, let’s talk a bit about copper. It is a metal that is at the forefront of the renewable revolution. “Copper is in our solar panels, it is in our wind turbines, it is in our electric vehicles and it is part of modern transportation whether it is electrified public transport or uses some form of renewable power.”

Copper is central to sustaining a de-carbonised world that we’re consciously building.

But a study by the Warren Centre points out that there is another major factor to consider. The historic urbanisation in two Asian countries – China and India – means billions are being lifted out of poverty (and agrarian societies) and cities are being rapidly transformed. “They’re not building cities of the last century, they are building cities of the future. And these cities are all about electric vehicles, electric public transport that is powered by electricity generated by wind and solar power.”

Little surprise then that China consumed almost half the world’s copper in 2018.

So how do we achieve zero-emission copper mines?

The Warren Centre has produced a report that looks at various stages of the mine value chain and has divided technologies in terms of horizons. Here are few examples

Electric Vehicles: We know in our own neighbourhood the people who has gone from driving a car that runs on gasoline to diesel. Then, from diesel to a hybrid car. And now they’re driving a 100 per cent electric vehicle. “The same technologies are coming to mining sites. And the same family of technology is coming to those monster trucks that transport ore around.”

Normet is one company that makes electric vehicles for the mining industry. They say about their SmartDrive products, “Normet SmartDrive is a fully new and modern technology using the latest long-life industrial grade Lithium-Ion battery technology with fast charging capability and electric motors specifically designed for harsh environments, which is available for all key machines of the mining and tunnelling portfolio.”

Other companies also in the race to manufacture vehicles that are usable, feasible and practical are Sandvik and Epiroc.

JFK’s speech about going to the moon. This is moonshot thinking.

Another solution Mr. Brinson talks about is: the use of data. “Data is making our our ride to the airport in our cars quicker. The same technology can be used for AI, Data analytics and machine learning,.”

The other technologies the report covers are:

The many horizons of technology

Apart the mine value chain, the Warren Centre report also divides technologies according to what is immediate (horizon one), achievable in the near future (horizon two) and technologies that still aren’t out of the laboratory/ testing phase (horizon three).

Mr. Brinson also references Rio Tinto’s mine as a model for others to look at: Rio’s remote operations centre is deployed to move unmanned vehicles often thousands of miles away. “Operators aren’t driving one vehicle, they are driving a fleet of vehicles.”

He talks about data visualisation and use of goggles and virtual reality as horizon two technologies.

In the third horizon, he talks about technologies that have still not been invented or are still in the laboratory – we are talking extraction of the ore by use of slurry, hydrolic hoisting systems and use of hydrogen vehicles.

The report by the Warren Centre is titled: Zero Emissions Copper Mines of the Future.

( The report was researched and compiled by The Warren Centre and was funded by the International Copper Association Australia).

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