Sustainability in mining: A damned obligation or a tremendous opportunity?

The fair way to supply the world’s growing population with mineral raw materials is the largest challenge of the future faced by society as a whole. Tremendous commercial potential is linked, for better or worse, to efficient sustainability.

By Bodo Wistinghausen

Very few issues are being discussed so intensively by the industry as sustainability. This is particularly the case in mining. From a global perspective, there is hardly another industry to which greater importance is attached. A process of exploiting the world’s national resources while ignoring their limited availability is now considered to be a dead end. The time has now come to recognize realities and to invest globally. Turning the challenges of sustainable trade into opportunities and seizing them commercially are two of the biggest tasks we face today.

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Sustainability: Observe regional differences
All areas of mining are equally affected, even if priorities will naturally vary by regions in the world. In the comparatively heavily populated areas of Western and Central Europe, production of raw materials begins to compete for space with such areas as agriculture from the very start: the planning stage. Available space is rare. For this reason, sustainable actions also involve the meticulous restoration of mining areas. Practices that have been a standard operating procedure in well-organized industrial countries remain a developmental area in other parts of the world. In such places, the challenge of sustainability involves much more than simply minimizing the use of energy and resources. A key priority is to utilize alternative and environmentally friendly energies and new technologies to produce raw materials. Sustainable action begins with a social-cultural component: The certification of raw-material production and traceability along the supply chains of mineral raw materials has a positive effect on the development and implementation of international requirements.

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Worldwide technology transfer
The industry cannot shut itself off from such developments and has no plans to do so – a global sharing of experiences and technologies becomes that much more important as a result. Initial pioneering work appears to be promising: Post-mining creates complex approaches to follow-up uses, including pump storage stations to produce energy in former mining shafts. Self-developed methods are turning formerly exhausted slag heaps into commercially interesting storage sites. Bioleaching can be used to extract certain ores by employing special micro-organisms. New processes and procedures are needed everywhere. Germany and other technology leaders can act as role models here. Their worldwide expertise must be complemented by technology and knowledge exports. Intelligently interpreted, this is the opportunity of the 21st century for the mining industry. On its home page, the German Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources lists a number of national and international projects related to mining and sustainability.

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Mining: Think big – act globally
The dimensions are increasingly opening up, and no superlative can describe the situation better than Stefan Rummel, the Managing Director of Messe München: “A new era lies ahead of us. An era filled with many complex issues related to artificial intelligence, autonomous driving, sustainability, recycling and much more.”

In its role as a globally leading information platform, bauma in Munich always strives to be something more than a machine show. The sustainability effort has also reached this segment. A solution that has long been used as a sustainable alternative for totally refurbished EM tire molds is now being used for construction machinery as well. A number of manufacturers offer factory-owned processing programs for large vehicles, particularly the industry’s heavyweights. This process, which is known as rebuild or remanufacturing, produces a complete second life with plant warranty for dump trucks, excavators and wheel loaders. Sustainability is frequently found in the details of products and technologies.

Bodo Wistinghausen writes for GP Gesteins-Perspektiven. The professional magazine journalistically represents the entire rock industry as the official publication of the Bundesverbandes Mineralische Rohstoffe e.V. (the German Association of Mineral Resources) and its country associations.

Photo material: © Bodo Wistinghausen