ESG targets, Sustainability

Can we achieve net-zero by 2030?

Australian Mining sat down with FLSmidth’s head of legal – APAC to discuss the prospect of meeting net-zero by 2030, and the important role the mining sector has to play.

The road to net-zero is a long and potentially arduous one.

It’s a road that requires creativity on a new scale, providing a platform for thought leaders and innovators to think outside the box and design novel technologies and methodologies.

As one of the mining industry’s most prominent original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), FLSmidth is leading mining companies into uncharted territory, where technologies are more instantaneous and interoperable.

It’s a transformation that’s calling on more experts from more industries, with an understanding that achieving decarbonisation requires a group effort.

With new technologies and capabilities come new policies, and for an OEM evolving as rapidly as FLSmidth, it’s critical that the company keeps up with the ever-changing regulatory landscape.

As FLSmidth’s head of legal – Asia Pacific, Virna Trout plays an important role in providing timely, efficient and risk-focused advice as the company realises its mission of building a better future for its employees, society and the planet.

FLSmidth head of legal – Asia Pacific Virna Trout.

Trout has a unique insight into the diplomatic dialogue surrounding decarbonisation, and how governments are evolving to foster investment opportunities and growth for the mining sector.

When asked about the challenges facing the Australian mining sector en route to net-zero, Trout told Australian Mining there was one key limitation.

“FLSmidth sees time as one of the key challenges,” she said. “Copper’s the metal of electrification, and the failure to quickly increase copper production is going to delay the green transition.

“The world understands we need key minerals to support the green transition, yet the development and investment in Australian mines and processing plants is probably slower than it should be.”

So how do we accelerate things? It starts with the dialogue.

“We’re starting the conversation, and that’s the most important part,” Trout said.

“But we need to accelerate the conversation and get governments together with key industry promoters, such as the Minerals Council of Australia and Queensland Resources Council, vendors in the mining industry, and communities.

“We need to acknowledge that there are competing challenges, and that if the global desire is a green transition and sustainability is at the forefront of that, then we’re going to need additional developments in the world, particularly in mining, to be able to get to that end goal.”

From conversation must come action, and Trout is encouraged by some international developments.

“The US and Canada have been proactive, implementing bills that support investment,” she said. “That’s your ‘carrot’ approach.

“And then other nations are looking at it from the ‘stick’ approach, such as a carbon tax and penalising companies that aren’t putting innovation in place to reduce their emissions.

“The world’s going down two different tracks to get to net-zero, and both are still aimed at accelerating innovation and accelerating the sustainability journey the world needs to be on to achieve our targets.”

The US has allocated $US370 billion in federal funding to support renewable energy efforts Through its Inflation Reduction Act, while Canada set aside almost $C83 billion in clean energy tax credits in its 2023 budget.

Australia committed $25 billion to support clean energy projects in its 2022–23 budget, and the Federal Government is now looking to establish a Net Zero Authority to support its aspirations of becoming a “renewable energy superpower”. The new agency will help communities attract new green energy industries and support interested investors, while coordinating government policies and programs to help this effort.

FLSmidth is turning challenges into opportunities through its MissionZero mine, where the OEM is supporting customers with solutions that support zero emissions, zero water waste, and zero energy waste.

Efficiency is at the heart of MissionZero, where mining companies and contractors are not only limiting their carbon footprint but also realising greater productivity.

“We want to be a company that builds a better future for our employees, society and the planet, which is why we’ve got our MissionZero targets and frameworks,” Trout said. “We’ve got a couple of ways where we’re turning challenges into opportunities. We’ve got products and digital solutions that are already in play, such as our REFLUX Flotation Cell (RFC) and our coarseAIR flotation technology.

“We’re also looking at how we can upgrade existing facilities and products to make them more energy-efficient, such as our HPGR Pro solution and thickener improvements through our E-Volute feedwell technology.”

As for FLSmidth’s legal department, the MissionZero mine means supporting patents and other intellectual property protections, while an operational team supports the development and implementation of early-adopter customer contracts for pilot and full-scale test facilities. 

“This is important to ensure parties are aligned in their expectations of a facility’s performance targets, which will ultimately result in long-term adaptation,” Trout said. “It’s exciting to work with FLSmidth’s products business to see innovative ideas become reality.”

FLSmidth is also keeping itself accountable.

“Our MissionZero mine deliberately contains unsolved ‘black boxes’ to push us to develop new solutions for the future,” Trout said.

“It’s important to acknowledge that we don’t have all the solutions.

“We’ve got products available and we’re designing new ones, and we want to work with our customers on the next one, the next product we haven’t even thought of yet.”

This is all part of FLSmidth’s overarching goal to be an enabler for its customers and the mining industry at large.

Trout understands that while the mining sector has come a long way in embracing decarbonisation and employing sustainable technologies and practices, it can still do more to foster its image. This is especially important given the industry will play an increasingly critical role in supplying minerals for renewable technologies.

“We really need to sell the fact that we need mining to support the green transition and we can’t get there without it,” Trout said. “The mining industry needs to work on that positive message and sell the good things that we do and how we are part of the solution.

“It’s very easy to say this happened and that happened and it’s still a disaster, and that nobody wants a mine near them because they’re worried about water, and they’re worried about impacts to the environment.

“We’ve got to be out there selling and saying, ‘Well, actually, we’ve got a solution here. We’re actually designing a plant that uses less water. We are actively targeting this to ensure we are reducing our water usage’.

“I think we can be more proactive in our messaging and talk about how we are reducing – through technology that already exists – our water footprint, energy footprint, etcetera.”

In a world where actions speak louder than words, FLSmidth is delivering on its promise to support a decarbonised future, and the mining industry can be thankful it has such a committed ally.

This feature appeared in the June 2023 issue of Australian Mining.

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