Researchers have found a holistic approach to mining lifecycle assessments (LCA) could substantially improve an operation’s environment impacts and feasibility.
The team of researchers included members from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, Minviro, the British Geological Survey and the Circular Economy Solutions Unit.
Their paper ‘Towards sustainable extraction of technology materials through integrated approaches’ was published in Nature Reviews | Earth & Environment to combine the approaches of standard LCAs with a more geometallurgical approach.
Xiaoyu Yan of the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter explained why such research was important to industry.
“Understanding the environmental impacts of emerging technologies over their entire life cycle, particularly the raw materials supply stage in the case of clean energy technologies, is key to ensure that they are truly sustainable,” Yan said.
By combining these approaches, mining companies could better understand the effects of their mining activities to improve their environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials.
With copper demand expected to double and nickel to quadruple over the next 30 years, according to BHP, the responsible mining of these resources will be key over that time.
The paper found that a better understanding of the materials would consider their mining, refining, use, recycling, and disposal processes to gauge the true impact of a mining operation.
Professor Frances Wall from the University of Exeter’s Camborne School of Mines said this mindset could change the face of the mining industry.
“There is a huge opportunity for countries to use their natural mineral resources to help decarbonisation, but it is important that this is done in the right way so that it produces sustainable development and not disaster,” Wall said.
Lead author on the paper Robert Pell from Minviro and University of Exeter said it was promising to see teams working together in this nature.
“Writing this review was an excellent opportunity to bring together results of recent academic research and the experience from our Minviro consultancy business,” Pell said.