The circle of (a mineral’s) life

Mine workers are proud mined products make everyday life possible. Source: Minerals Council of Australia

What else apart from the obvious could mined products be used for once they reach end consumers? The Minerals Council of Australia presents the less-thought-of everyday things.

Mined products are responsible for bringing landmark inventions to life.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge wouldn’t have been erected and become Australia’s modern symbol without 53,000 tonnes of steel and six million hand driven rivets that went into its construction.

Australia’s futuristic F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet wouldn’t be able to travel at 1.6 times the speed of sound, or nearly 2000 kilometres an hour, without vanadium in its armour plating, germanium in its fibre optics, chromium in its missiles engines, and antimony in its ammunition.

Windfarms wouldn’t have been able to power an equivalent of over two million homes in 2017 and accounted for 5 per cent of Australia’s total electricity generation now, if it wasn’t for the excess of 220 tonnes of coal going into one wind turbine.

And with a baby born every 100 seconds in Australia, mined products such as copper, gold and aluminium go into sustaining these lives while they’re still in foetal stage.

These are just several uses that make lives easier and more progressive, which are made possible by mined products.

They are four of the 30 things that the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) highlighted in its simple, light-hearted report to highlight mining’s contribution.

This report is backed by the input of more than 90 member companies in the industry.

“It’s showing people things that surprise them to a degree. Mining doesn’t only support renewable energy, but also space exploration, tooth paste and birthing suites,” MCA general manager – industry positioning and engagement Simon Troeth tells Australian Mining.

“You rely on mining and minerals products from the point you were born, and throughout your entire life.”

Troeth’s confidence about the secure future of mining remains strong, even as tech giant Apple rolls out recycling programs that could turn one tonne of mobile phones into more gold than a tonne of gold ore.

Apple, in its 2019 environmental responsibility report, outlined plans to potentially turn 100,000 used iPhones into 32 kilograms of rare earth elements, 1400 kilograms of steel and 1.1 kilograms of gold, to name a few.

The success of its recycling program is credited to the company’s robot, Daisy, which the MCA says can disassemble up to 200 iPhones an hour.

With other companies to follow suit in time, Troeth believes the growing world’s population will place an increased demand for energy and battery minerals.

“It’s good to see that Apple and other companies are supplying the innovation to ensure minerals can be obtained in an environmentally sustainable way,” Troeth says.

“There will be some closed loop operations that apply in terms of mineral extraction. But as demand for our minerals, such as rare earths, critical minerals and battery minerals grows – particularly in Asia – there will be a need to obtain minerals from a variety of sources.”

The Australian minerals sector is expecting increasing opportunities in the marketplace that will require companies to source materials using different methods.

The future demand for minerals will come from, but isn’t limited to telecommunications (such as smartphones), electric vehicles (which need six times as much copper than a single petrol-fuelled car) and renewable energy (requiring at least 12 minerals in one solar panel), according to Troeth.

As humans have an “infinite capacity for invention,” people will see unheard-of technology being developed to help meet this demand, he adds.

Troeth points out extra-terrestrial mining as one new frontier in mining that reflects the industry’s openness to sustainable methods of minerals extraction.

“Australian minerals companies have always been at the cutting edge of technology and innovation. In fact, global companies look to Australia for its world leadership,” Troeth says.

Just as technology feeds into mining processes, so do minerals make advanced technology possible. Source: Minerals Council of Australia

 

“Our minerals companies are world class and they’re also very, very consumer aware, going to the market every day to get an up-to-date understanding of what consumers want. They understand that when market changes, they need to change as well.”

On the consumer’s end of the spectrum, other sectors have found new uses to products that have existed for many years.

Gold is a “classic” example, where its use has extended to innovative healthcare such as the nanoparticle treatment of cancer, the MCA highlights in its 30 Things report.

This opens up a new frontier of early detection, diagnosis and treatment of diseases, with gold nanoparticle technology having the ability to target and deliver antibodies directly into cancerous tumours, the MCA continues.

It is also being engineered to attach to cancer-related proteins to aid earlier detection.

“People have forgotten what mining means to their lives just like they have agriculture. Eighty-five per cent of Australians live in the city, a long way away from the mine sites and farms that produce the resources they need for modern life,” Troeth says.

“This presentation really shows there’s so much to Australian mining. And everything we do is directed towards building public support for mining and connecting Australians with the importance of mining.”

Troeth says people are starting to see the contribution that mining companies make to their regional communities, and the hard work being done on environmental management.

The responsible mine rehabilitation done by companies has also helped push opposition to the industry to its lowest level in recent years at 10 per cent, a research JWS Research has conducted for the MCA shows.

MCA member companies, such as BHP, Rio Tinto and Glencore, also play their part in shifting public perception of mining.

“They have been running substantial advertising campaigns to tell their stories and the stories of the industry, which have been very beneficial in securing public support,” Troeth says.

“Additionally, Australians support sensible, pragmatic solutions on climate change, and mining companies are working very hard to be in line with the Paris Agreement, including reducing Australian emissions by 26–28 per cent by 2030.”

Troeth doesn’t shy away from expressing the MCA’s pride in telling that story on behalf of not only its mining companies, but also the 240,000 people working in Australian mining.

Likewise, mine workers are “really, really proud to help process mined commodities turn into the manufactured products that play such a big role in modern life,” Troeth says.

“If something doesn’t grow, it was mined. Mining contributes to our daily lives more than we’ve realised.”

Have we mentioned stock feed nutrients, farm fertilisers and food packaging are made possible due
to mining?

The 30 Things report, which the MCA presents in a light-hearted way, has garnered attention from South America, Canada and parts of Europe. After all, the mineral uses hold relevance throughout the globe.

Thirty everyday things mining makes possible:

  1. Electricity
  2. Food processing
  3. Health care
  4. Smartphones
  5. White goods
  6. Electric cars
  7. Defence
  8. Solar panels
  9. Your house
  10. Public transport
  11. Cleaning products
  12. Sydney Harbour Bridge
  13. iPads and Xboxes
  14. Personal hygiene
  15. Currency
  16. BAtteries
  17. Commercial printing
  18. Dentistry
  19. Funerals
  20. Film and television
  21. Meat and vegies
  22. Home protection
  23. Environmental solutions
  24. Melbourne Cup
  25. Birthing suites
  26. Brewing beer
  27. Lenses and telescopes
  28. Roads and rail
  29. Windfarms
  30. Space travel

This article also appears in the November edition of Australian Mining.

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