The dizzying pace of decarbonization
Decarbonization has quickly become a top priority in mining, with miners big and small announcing targets for net zero production of metals. The amount of work going into solutions to decarbonize the industry – from renewable energy to battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell-powered equipment to digital technologies that make for more efficient mining – is truly dizzying.
This urgent pace, of course, has much to do with investor pressure and public sentiment. There’s a very real possibility that miners who don’t have adequate plans to address carbon emissions will be punished by the market.
As a result, major companies have set carbon reduction and neutrality targets for their operations between 2030 and 2050, and are beginning to outline the pathway to achieve those targets.
For miners of bulk commodities, this will be more of a challenge than miners of small-tonnage deposits – diamonds for example (which may help explain why
De Beers’ carbon neutrality target for its operations is a full decade earlier than its parent company, Anglo American).
And miners who produce commodities that are inputs to highly carbon-intensive products – iron ore or metallurgical coal used to produce steel, for example – are especially challenged.
Most pledges to reduce emissions have understandably been focused on Scope 1 and 2 emissions – operational emissions that are under the control of miners (direct and indirect). However, some companies have committed to begin looking at Scope 3 or value chain emissions, which are technically outside of their control.
Rio Tinto, for example, the world’s largest iron ore miner by volume, had previously dismissed taking responsibility for Scope 3 emissions. But earlier this year, it set targets to reduce those emissions by 30% by 2030, and outlined the goal of carbon-neutral steelmaking by 2050. Partnerships will be a big part of that effort.
Indeed, in a recent report, The 2030 decarbonization challenge, Deloitte noted that addressing Scope 3 emissions won’t be possible without the collaboration of mining companies and other players in the supply chain.
While that will get us a step closer to the circular economy, efforts to reduce emissions alone won’t solve the carbon problem, says Greg Dipple, a professor and carbon capture researcher at the University of British Columbia.
“Ultimately we’ve already put out too much CO2,” Dipple says. “By 2050 or so, we need to be starting to actually remove CO2 from the atmosphere.”
Dipple is investigating one such method – carbon capture by tailings, a naturally occurring process that offers the potential to help some operations achieve net zero emissions, or better (page 16).
And along the climate theme, in this issue, we also look at several promising uranium deposits in Saskatchewan’s Athabasca basin that could help power the low-carbon energy transition (page 27).
Also check out our coverage of what’s happening in Ontario’s Ring of Fire (page 12), and the latest trends in mine reclamation (page 21 and 24).