Mining and the Circular Economy

A circular economy (CE) is any economic system where waste is eliminated, and resources are continually used and reused. CMIC’s goal to transform mining to a zero-waste industry epitomizes the circular economy.

This week we are exploring the opportunities and progress we see in creating a mining industry that reflects the circular economy. But first, let’s take a look at the barriers and obstacles we face.

Three barriers to the circular economy

There are three key obstacles slowing the adoption of CE practices for the mining industry:

1) Technological/innovation constraints

Aside from the financial risks inherent in the development of new technologies there is also a fear of failure and a prevailing attitude that ‘we’ve done it this way for decades, so why change now?’.

This is why collaborative organizations like CMIC are important. By working together to create value-added innovation, we can leverage the resources of members to reduce the financial and technical risks of deploying new technology at sites.

2) Policy and regulations

Government policies are often woefully inadequate, crafted by government policy makers rather than industry experts, and changes typically take as long as ten years.

To effect the change we strive for, at an acceptable pace, we require, at the very least, two things: (1) policies crafted by industry experts with a nuanced sense of our business, our technology and the future that we’re trying to create; and (2) a nimbler system than the one which currently requires a 10-year cycle to change. Ideally, CE would fully remove the need for policy or regulations.

3) Market/supply chain

The market in mining is small, and our industry typically represents a small portion of our vendors’ business. This provides little incentive for them to innovate, particularly if new technologies cannot be used by industries other than mining.

CMIC has created a platform for innovation that makes it easier accelerate the pace of innovation and move us towards solutions that we can commercialize across the sector.

Rethinking the mining industry

The move toward zero waste mining means challenging the current design principles of the business to reinvent the mining process and the surrounding ecosystem until waste is either eliminated or recovered as a valuable product. Our goal is to have the word ‘waste’ eventually disappear from the vernacular.

To do this we must tackle the platform technologies and processes of the industry that have the largest environmental footprint, such as those that consume energy and water.

For example, the drill and blast process typically results in all material being hoisted to the surface for processing. The deployment of mechanical cutting instead of drill and blast, and sensor-based ore sorting are both parts of a move to a continuous, integrated process which allows diversion of waste at the source, less material hoisted to the surface, lower energy and water usage, and less tailings. The next question becomes ‘how can we process underground?’.

Through the connection of innovators and facilitation of collaboration, CMIC is driving change, helping create a circularity within the industry; and potentially creating an alignment between mining and other industries deploying new and highly innovative business models.

To learn more about how our evolving ecosystem delivers on solving the challenges the mining industry is facing today, check out our Why Rethink Mining page.

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Mike Stuart

Head of Sales , Intel