Achieving a carbon-neutral mining operation

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In recent years, several mining companies have set targets to achieve a carbon-neutral mining operation, brought on by international initiatives introduced by the United Nations, and increased responsibility to take ownership of the climate change issue.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) came into effect in 1994 as an international environmental treaty, formed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions which are widely recognised as adversely contributing to climate change. Following the formation of the UNFCCC, another significant milestone was achieved in the signing of the Paris Agreement on 12 December 2015 whereby all parties (nearly 200 countries) were united in the objective to combat climate change.

The mining sector is believed to contribute between 4-7 per cent of Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions globally and up to 30 per cent if Scope 3 emissions are considered. Therefore, the mining industry has a key role to play in reducing its contribution to global emissions.

However, for the mining industry, it is not just about reducing emissions to combat climate change. The sector also needs to consider a range of other factors, such as:

  • Identification of current and future assets that could be at risk from physical climate change, for example, water shortages.
  • Understanding future demand drivers linked to decarbonisation initiatives. This would include the reduction in demand for commodities that generate emissions, like fossil fuels, and the increase in demand for minerals that would support a shift to greener technologies, such as battery minerals.
  • Increasing pressure from investors, Government, and the local communities to improve operational performance around Environment, Sustainability and Governance (ESG) principles.
  • A rise in global demand for minerals and metals, resulting in expansion of capacity and potentially, increased emissions outputs.

There is a range of options available to mining companies to tackle these climate change factors within their operations, and it is not all about technology. A broader mindset and a drive to achieve a carbon-neutral mining operation are required to bring about the change that is desperately needed.

Recent articles in the Australian Financial Review and other media outlets such as provide commentary on BHP linking executive bonuses to accelerated plans for reducing climate emissions by 30 per cent in 10 years. The mining giant has also told its investors that capital investment in climate change initiatives, around $1.37 billion over five years, will have higher spending priority than dividend returns.

Key strategies for going carbon-neutral

Engenium now Stantec cannot meaningfully contribute to the boardroom decisions around executive remuneration and keeping shareholders happy, but we can talk about some of the more tangible options available around initiatives to reduce emissions on the road to achieving a carbon-neutral mining operation. These initiatives would include:

  • Seeking alternative energy sources. Initiatives within the mining and resources sector to adopt green energy generation practices is steadily on the increase, whether supplementing existing power generation systems with solar, wind and hydro-generation or making wholesale changes to pure renewables supply.
  • Production of water from the atmosphere using ‘atmospheric water generators’, which are particularly effective when combined with renewable energy sources powering the units.
  • Use of alternative fuels, such as hydrogen and biodiesel.
  • Carbon capture and storage – strongly linked to the coal sector.
  • Opting for autonomous vehicles. Mining companies have been consistently reporting improvements in fuel consumption for autonomous trucks when compared to traditional vehicles.
  • Electrification of mining fleets.
  • Process plants that reduce water consumption.
  • Dust mitigation strategies that reduce water consumption.
  • The capture of fugitive emissions.
  • Drone exploration and 3D mapping techniques.
  • Collection and recycling of inert waste streams.

While investing in operating practices that reduce a mining operations carbon footprint should be a constant but ever-improving vigil, all emission generating companies can go a step further through carbon offsetting, which allows companies to offset their residual emissions.

After considering measures to reduce their operational footprint, a company can pay for greenhouse gas reductions to be made outside of their business, like tree planting or investing in a green energy production system such as wind, solar or hydroelectricity.

Finding a path forward

The mining industry is critical to the society in which we live. Minerals and metals are found in virtually everything we use, and they underpin many initiatives to reduce our environmental footprint through greener technologies, like electric vehicles. Therefore, the world needs the mining industry to support the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Engenium now Stantec is currently helping deliver solar/hybrid facilities for both Alinta and TransAlta in the mining industry. We have the expertise to help you identify and implement functional and technological initiatives into your operation and work towards your goal to achieve carbon neutrality.


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