Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is another example of the key technologies that is expected to be deployed under the transition to clean energy. It involves the capture of CO2 from combustion of coal and gas and the transportation of CO2 from the source to long-term storage solutions. CCS is expected to generate an increased demand for chromium, cobalt, copper, manganese, molybdenum and nickel as key minerals required for capturing the CO2 or in the steel alloys needed for the plants, pipelines and logistics networks including ports and vessels.
The use of fuel cells and hydrogen is expected to play a vital role in powering various industrial processes as well as transportation. The use of fuel cells and hydrogen has been explored for some time because of is potential to lower carbon emissions, however its deployment has been limited by high cost barriers and infrastructure constraints. Fuel cells offer a higher energy density per weight than batteries, which is why fuel cells have been emerging predominantly in buses and medium to heavy freight transport. Fuel cells and the electrolysis production of hydrogen generates a demand profile for platinum, ruthenium, chromium and nickel in additional to the wider mineral demand resulting from the transport of hydrogen.
Finally, the potential of recycling and reuse should be an important focus area. While the recycling and reuse of minerals can play a key role in reducing emissions, mining will still be required to supply the critical minerals needed to produce these low-carbon technologies. This is partly due to the lack of existing materials to recycle and reuse, along with associated costs and technological barriers.
We must raise awareness of the carbon footprint implications of the clean energy transition.
So, whilst we reflect on this increasing demand for minerals and increased activity of mining supply chains, how do we overcome one of the major challenges faced by the mining sector; public sentiment? How do we embark on this mineral intensive route to cleaner energy whilst the mining sector faces mounting pressure from activists to stop carbon emissions and projects considered harmful to the environment? How will new mining projects raise funding when enthusiasm for investment in fossil fuels and mining is shrinking, and the mining sector risks facing a market that is smaller, pricier and subject to a much higher degree of investor oversight?
The first step is undoubtably to raise awareness of the new route ahead, specifically the carbon footprint implications of the clean energy transition.
Despite the higher mineral intensity of renewable energy technologies, the scale of associated greenhouse gas emissions is a fraction of that of fossil fuel technologies. The greenhouse gas footprint of the extraction and processing of minerals necessary for green technologies will likely be higher than fossil fuel generation. However, once the emissions that result from extracting coal and gas, and ultimately burning it to generate electricity, are considered, fossil fuel generation has a substantially greater carbon footprint. Recent estimates for the 2°C or below pathway reveal that renewable energy and storage technologies will contribute just 6 percent of the CO2 contributed by coal and gas through to 2050. In other words, the lifetime carbon footprint of clean energy is believed to be considerably less than coal and gas alternatives.
The transition must be performed in a responsible manner and target all components of the supply chain.
Of course, this scenario can only be made a reality if the carbon and material footprints relating to the clean energy supply chains are successfully managed. This takes us to step two, implementation.
All stakeholders along the mineral and renewable energy supply chains will have a vital role to play in the transition to cleaner energy to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy for All). It is essential that this transition does not come at the cost of the climate, the environment and people, particularly communities directly affected by mining supply chains. This includes the environmental and social risks (for example, water, ecosystems, and so on) associated with increased extractive, processing and transport activities.
The manufacturing of clean technologies including solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries will undeniably shape the demand profile and supply chains of critical minerals for the foreseeable future. This presents material implications for a wide variety of industries and for mineral-rich developing countries. These countries stand to gain an economic boost from the rise in demand for minerals but also need to manage the material and climate footprints associated with increased mining activities.
This will require a high degree of innovation and environmental strategy across the whole supply chain to ensure responsible mineral extraction, transport logistics including road, rail, ports and shipping, installation, operation, decommissioning and recycling. Whilst progress is underway with several big mining companies implementing their own sustainability committees, significantly more action will be required to limit global warming to at or below 2°C.
The scope for Future Ready encompasses both old and new.
In some instances, the demand for specific minerals is set to increase by 500 percent and whilst the relative volumes of these minerals are manageable, it will require the exploration and development of new mines and export routes in typically remote locations. For existing diverse supply chains, such as iron ore (steel) and bauxite (aluminium), the increased demand will most likely require capacity expansions. Furthermore, the climate targets extend through to 2050, which means at least an additional 30-years design life should be considered for existing supply chain infrastructure.
So where do we start and what more can we be doing to control the carbon footprint of future projects?
At the mine, the drive to reduce carbon emissions has influenced the modernisation of mine vehicle fleets through hydrogen power. In Chile, Alta Ley has formed a consortium of companies to produce a dual fuel system using hydrogen and diesel to power existing combustion engines. In October 2020, Anglo American announced plans to introduce hydrogen mining truck fleets across seven sites by 2030. Anglo reports that the trucks will allow for 50 percent to 70 percent reduction in emissions (Scope 1 and 2 for open-pit mines). The company intends to test the first conversion at its platinum mine in South Africa in 2021.