Increasing demand for low-carbon technologies will boost mineral and metal needs

Increasing demand for low-carbon technologies will boost mineral and metal needs

The advancement of Industry 4.0 is expected to be achieved by low-carbon technologies, which will inevitably be spearheaded by an uptick in the mining of minerals and metals. As innovative solutions to complex challenges are critical to ongoing sustainability efforts, the mining industry is, and will continue to be, quite literally, the bedrock foundation essential for socio-economic development around the world.

The demand for greener technologies, and the corresponding need for the metals to build, transport, and install new products, is being driven by governments, the private sector, and consumer preferences. 1 This transition is accelerating, in part due to the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals, and the global agenda to mitigate climate change has attained a pace of change so significant that one must consider the potential implications for the extractive industry.2

While renewables may be the fastest growing source of energy, they are also considered to be more material-intensive than other energy sources. As technological development progresses, it has become easier to identify which materials will be most necessary for the energy transition — electric vehicles, solar photovoltaics, and wind energy have all demonstrated significant and diverse needs that go beyond base metals and common minerals. 3 Copper, aluminium, and steel will see substantial increases in cumulative demand for use in wind turbines, solar panel frames, copper connectors, and vehicles. Meanwhile, lithium, cobalt, graphite, indium, vanadium, nickel, silver, and gold will likely see significant demand increases that may exceed current reserves.

Though forecasts vary, and creative market responses to this demand are likely, a steadily growing body of research examining the materials necessary for the energy transition shows that an unprepared extractive industry could struggle to meet these needs — and possibly slow the integration of renewables. It is therefore important to remember that the key factors governing metals and minerals extraction are not just physical limitations, but rather the social, environmental, and economic challenges facing the industry.

Gold, in particular, will need to be mined in a safe, clean, and sustainable manner to produce the items needed for society. 4 With Clean Earth Technologiesmercury-free and cyanide-free gold recovery reagent, gold mining companies can now mine with the assurance of non-toxic mining outcomes. This is relevant to the advancement of the Fourth Industrial Revolution because the most important industrial use of gold is in the manufacture of electronics. Solid state electronic devices use low voltages and currents which can be easily interrupted by corrosion or tarnish at contact points. Being an efficient conductor that can carry tiny currents and remain free of corrosion, gold is used in connectors, switch and relay contacts, soldered joints, connecting wires and connection strips. 5 As a small amount of this precious metal is used in almost every sophisticated electronic device, including chips that regulate wind turbines and clean energy grids, gold needs to be mined in a clean and sustainable manner as it carries weight to the development of a low-carbon energy environment.

The shift towards renewables will require gold mining companies to make significant changes to their operations, and companies should not be producing gold for a low-carbon environment while simultaneously polluting the very same environment with toxic, cyanide-contaminated tailings. 6 Ultimately, such changes will benefit the industry and aid in the development of low-carbon technologies. 7 In light of volatile gold prices, geopolitical considerations, and other shifting variables, the clearest path forward is a healthy, environmentally-friendly extractive industry flexible enough to adopt and utilise clean mining lixiviants such as Clean Earth Technologies’ gold recovery reagent.

The fact that a low-carbon energy environment is intrinsically linked to mining development should not be overlooked. Rebalancing and adopting environmentally sustainable processes at gold mines will be essential for the extractive industry to generate non-toxic mining outputs. 8 This will sustain the development of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and a low-carbon future.

 

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[1] Arrobas, et al. The growing role of minerals and metals for a low carbon future. World Bank Group, Washington, D.C, 2017. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/207371500386458722/The-Growing-Role-of-Minerals-and-Metals-for-a-Low-Carbon-Future

[2] “Home .:. Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform,” United Nations (United Nations), accessed November 30, 2020, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/.

[3] Church C., Crawford A. (2020) Minerals and the Metals for the Energy Transition: Exploring the Conflict Implications for Mineral-Rich, Fragile States. In: Hafner M., Tagliapietra S. (eds) The Geopolitics of the Global Energy Transition. Lecture Notes in Energy, vol 73. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-39066-2_12

[4] Awareness of the impact of climate change is becoming increasingly pervasive. For more on responsible gold mining practices, see more, “Gold’s Role in a Low-Carbon Economy,” World Gold Council, accessed November 30, 2020, https://www.gold.org/goldhub/research/gold-investor/gold-investor-february-2019/golds-role-in-a-low-carbon-economy.

[5] The Many Uses of Gold,” geology, accessed November 30, 2020, https://geology.com/minerals/gold/uses-of-gold.shtml.

[6] Richard Jansen van Vuuren, “An Introduction to the Links between Gold and Climate Change,” Miningreview.com, June 27, 2018, https://www.miningreview.com/news/introduction-links-between-gold-climate-change/.

[7] For more on the key findings supporting gold’s role in improving energy efficiency, see, Energy Industry Review, “Gold’s Role in Improving Energy Efficiency and Developing Low Carbon Technologies,” Energy Industry Review, August 1, 2018, https://energyindustryreview.com/metals-mining/golds-role-in-improving-energy-efficiency-and-developing-low-carbon-technologies/.

[8] “Gauntlet Laid down for Gold Miners to Meet Climate Targets, but Green Switch Could Cost as Much as $70bn,” NS Energy, October 24, 2019, https://www.nsenergybusiness.com/news/gold-climate-change-net-zero-mining/.

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