METS Ignited on clean energy futures

Adrian Beer, chief executive of METS Ignited, outlines the critical dual role mining plays in the clean energy future.

METS Ignited chief executive Adrian Beer believes the mining industry needs better showcase its use of technology in creating a sustainable future.

Adrian Beer, chief executive of METS Ignited, outlines the critical dual role mining plays in the clean energy future, and the stranded technologies that could revolutionise the industry.

Society is in the middle of a clean energy transition, which has come with an increasing demand for critical minerals and metals.

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) has become the number one priority for many shareholders. Governments’ industry priorities are changing, investors are focused on emissions through the value chain, and technology can trace the provenance of minerals through the supply chain.

Adrian Beer, chief executive of METS Ignited, told Australian Mining the industry was facing a multidimensional transformation.

“The first dimension is supply-side. We are seeing a huge increase in demand in the minerals required to supply, transport and distribute clean energy – the battery minerals and rare earths for magnets in turbines,” he said.

“On the flip side, there’s also a dramatic shift in the process of mining and the equipment used to reduce environmental impact, such as the electrification of mines, optimisation and alternative mining methods.”

The mining of critical minerals often has shorter cycle times in smaller satellite deposits. This changes the economies of scale when compared with traditional operations, which can have decades to generate returns on their capital investment.

This fundamentally alters how investment decisions are made, which ore bodies are mined, and what markets are prioritised to supply.

Scale also affects the equipment and technology vendors. Long-life assets could previously invest millions into research and development to overcome specific challenges, benefiting research institutions, or the large engineering companies at the forefront of innovation.

Beer said this model was less economically viable as mines become more agile.

“Those outside the industry think that mining is slow to embrace change, but most of the technologies like autonomous mining vehicles were implemented decades ago,” he said.

“The biggest struggle the sector is facing isn’t change, it’s the maturity of the processes to manage that change. Many of our large miners try to solve problems themselves, as their operations are unique and therefore need bespoke technology.”

“Their focus was to invest directly in research collaborations to solve their unique challenges. It is not their role to commercialise those solutions. Without a translation engine for these research outcomes, such as Australia’s vendor community, our local economy is missing out when it comes to the delivery of problem-solving technology.”

Beer uses Sweden as an example of a region with a mature vendor environment. Mining takes place in the artic circle, underground and at low grades, making it a highly complex mining environment to operate within.

The Swedish Mining Clusters invested into ‘vendors’, into companies that find commercially viable ways around the common problems different companies were facing. These solutions are translated into products and services sold and made available around the world.

Beer said these vendors command a significant amount of market share globally. If you can provide and economic solution in the arctic circle, it is likely to work well elsewhere.

“In Australia, we are missing that investment link in the go-to-market,” he said. “We need to support our home-grown technology vendors to commercialise these stranded technologies if we want our local economy to realise its full potential.”

METS Ignited is an industry growth centre that was initially set up to commercialise innovation in the mining equipment, technology and services sector.

The organisation is nearing the end of its initial government funding and in transition towards long-term sustainability – releasing these stranded technologies. It partners with research centres and mines to find out the readiness level of the different technologies and help vendors partner with investors to make them commercially available.

“In Australia, our mining companies have sustained investment for such a long time that we have world-leading researchers,” Beer said. “They’ve created software applications, advanced data analytics, automated technology and helped optimise mineral processes at mines around the world.

“However, vendors are the vehicle for commercialising these research outcomes, which often only make it to proven pilots or prototypes that haven’t been fully rolled out.

“This is a revenue opportunity for our research sector, which needs to attract new investments and as mines get smaller and the life of mine becomes shorter. Vendors commercialising these technologies in partnership with research helps to create jobs and grows our local economy.”

Innovation around emission-reducing technology is becoming increasingly more important as mining companies near their 2030 emissions targets.

Beer said the industry was bucking against public perception and sharing technology for the benefit of the sector.

“Our biggest challenge is the branding issue that is facing the mining sector, and we have ourselves to blame,” he said.

“While we are supplying the minerals that a clean energy future depends on, we’re not showcasing what we do as an industry.

“Our sector is built on sustained innovation, technologies in high demand across multiple other sectors.

“Our future is bright, but challenging. We need the best and brightest to come into our sector – and realise we do care, we do invest, and we are looking for technology to make a difference”

This feature appeared in the June issue of Australian Mining.

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