It's going to take a lot of carbon to decarbonise

THE mining industry is being placed in the awkward position of trying to massively ramp up production of the raw materials for a new decarbonised infrastructure while having to operate with the ESG handbrake on.
It's going to take a lot of carbon to decarbonise It's going to take a lot of carbon to decarbonise It's going to take a lot of carbon to decarbonise It's going to take a lot of carbon to decarbonise It's going to take a lot of carbon to decarbonise

The mining industry is under growing pressure to keep a lid on its emissions.

Mining of battery metals and other critical materials is going to have to proceed at a furious pace to meet carbon reduction deadlines.

Metallurgical coal used for the production of the vast amounts of steel needed to build the windmills and other renewables infrastructure will also remain in high demand.

This is at a time when the mining industry is under growing pressure to keep a lid on its emissions.

A report commissioned by the Weir Group that quantifies energy use in five commodities - copper, gold, iron ore, nickel and lithium - found that the total amount of power used by mining is equal to about 3.5% of global energy use.

It states the metals produced by mining are critical for enabling the global transition to low-carbon infrastructure.

The report found that without action, energy use in mining itself was set to trend higher in the coming years as demand increased for the minerals a clean energy transition needed.

Wood Mackenzie vice-chair metals and mining Julian Kettle said that to limit the average global warming to 2C above pre-industrial levels, about 17,000 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions would need to be taken out of the global economy by 2040, compared with 2020 levels.

"By 2030 the reduction required is ‘only' 7500Mt CO2-e - still a huge target, especially given that on current projections emissions are set to continue to rise until at least 2025," he said.

"It will not be possible to sate the decarbonisation aspirations of industry and consumers at the same time."

Kettle also questions the mining industry's ability to deliver the battery metals such as lithium, cobalt, and nickel to supply the much-vaunted switch to electronic vehicles.

"The key question is not whether enough EV manufacturing capacity can be put in place, nor even whether battery production facilities can be ramped up fast enough, but rather, can the mining industry deliver the tonnage?" he asks.

"My considered opinion is unequivocal: the numbers simply don't add up in terms of the scale and speed of the buildout of mine supply required and processing capacity needed to deliver on a two-degree pathway."

Metallurgical coal will be used for steel making for decades to come and while there has been talk of a switch to green steel using hydrogen this is some way off in the future. There is also the question of cost.

WoodMac says the widespread availability of green hydrogen will determine the rate of decarbonisation of steel production.

However, it estimates the cost of the technological solution to decarbonisation, or carbon abatement cost, is more than US$200 per tonne of CO2-e. 

Hogsback reckons the world might be too ambitious in wanting the mining industry to adhere to strict ESG principles, pay dividends to shareholders, and at the same time deliver increased production to supply the raw materials for its lofty decarbonisation aspirations.