For the best part of a century, the mining industry’s processes remained largely unchanged. Anglo American chief executive officer Mark Cutifani speaks about how the company is updating its processes for the next 100 years and beyond.
A big part of Anglo American’s future is its goal to be carbon neutral by 2040, which is driving portfolio changes, such as an exit from thermal coal.
Its technology however that has the largest role to play in Anglo American’s path forward, introducing technologies, such as particle flotation.
Particle flotation, which allows miners to float ore particles at two to three times larger than the usual size, is helping Anglo American achieve its goals of reducing both energy costs and water usage by 30 per cent by 2030.
At the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) Online 2020, Cutifani explains how this is giving miners an opportunity to process coarser ore and recover higher quality product through flotation, enabling the extraction of 85 per cent of water, lowering water usage footprint by 50 per cent.
“We looked at all of our processes and recognised that we have been doing things very similarly for about 100 years and felt there was a significant need for change,” says Cutifani, speaking at IMARC Online 2020.
“We see the way forward as changing our footprint; I’m talking in physical mine areas, consumption of energy, consumption of water and generation of carbon gas.
“By changing the flowsheet and energy consumption we’re also able to change a whole range of other physical variables in operations.”
By using technology such as particle flotation, Anglo American is not only reducing its footprint, but its operation costs.
Another aim for the company is introducing more renewable energies to support its operations, including hydrogen, to replace diesel and other fossil fuels it uses to power its Australian and international mines.
Cutifani says another change for Anglo American between 100 years ago and modern day 2021 is the proximity of local communities to mining operations, both physically and emotionally.
“Back then, federal governments backed mining operations, then regional and now it’s local communities that mines have got to connect with,” he explains.
“Social license to operate, or as we’ve changed the term to, social license to innovate is so important when changing processes and reducing our footprint.
“That is the first place the local community and wider society will judge whether or not we are doing a good job.”
Anglo American’s Social Way program, which was launched in 2003 is critical in its aim to connect to local communities.
Through Social Way, Anglo American engages with the communities in which it operates to minimise the social impacts of its mining operations on the communities in which it operates and maximise development opportunities.
This includes local employment and business and treating mining communities as a partner in its operations, rather than just a location.
“Our commitment is for five local jobs for every job we create on a mine site is part of our recognition that we have to be part of and contribute to our communities,” Cutifani says.
“For the future of our work, we have to be partners with our community members, everything we do connects with them to generate returns to the community.”
This connection also applies to Anglo American’s customers and supply chain, understanding not only the impact of the communities its minerals come from, but that the responsibility continues within its supply chain of where its minerals go after sales.
Ensuring a responsible supply chain has been a key priority for Anglo American for the past seven years, as a founding member of the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance.
“People expect the products they use to have come from legitimate sources where people have been treated with dignity and respect and there to have been no corrupt activities where we’ve sourced our products from,” Cutifani says.
“From our point of view, this is a part of who we are. We started with diamonds before moving more broadly to platinum group metals and other products to ensure a responsible supply chain.”
To keep up this path of creating a more sustainable long-term industry, Anglo American has committed to its FutureSmart Mining initiative, which uses technology, digitalisation and sustainability to transform how it sources, mines, processes, moves and markets its products.
Since implementing this plan, Anglo American has already downsized its portfolio by half, while producing 15 per cent more product.
“Our physical footprint has reduced almost 50 per cent, operating costs by 45 per cent with a third of this being our portfolio, a third in using automation and the last third being changing our mining methods to reflect FutureSmart,” Cutifani explains.
“Rolling bulk ore sorting through three of our sites over the next couple of years and continuing to trial flotation and introduce hydrogen trucks will be key steps ahead to march down costs and our footprint.”
As Anglo American reflects on its past as it forges its new path forward, Cutifani says technology is absolutely critical going ahead.
With mines going an average of 40 metres deeper each year and ore grades dropping, while community and social license to operate concerns continue, this strategy will be key for cleaning its footprint in 2021 and beyond, to continue sustainable mining.
“Commodities touch every part of society, whether its building materials, energy, purified water, new energy sources and we are part of everything in terms of our supply chain and the future state of the planet,” he says.
“Every commodity plays its part and mining remains as exciting today as it was for me 40 years ago.”
This feature also appears in the February edition of Australian Mining.