Infrastructure, Energy & MaterialsNovember 13, 2020

The Digital Path to Sustainable Mining

As the mining industry becomes even more complex, it is dealing with…
Avatar Mark Bese

As the mining industry becomes even more complex, it is dealing with resources that are harder to access, capital looking to be greener, and a redefinition of what ‘profitable’ means in the age of sustainability and quality of life. While mining itself continues to make progress in becoming more sustainable, it has a key role to play in helping the world meet the Paris Climate Agreement targets by providing the key materials used in greener energy sources such as wind and solar.

Recently, a live event called “The Digital Path to Sustainable Mining” explored topics related to these challenges with guests from BHP, sustainability organization BSR, and Dassault Systèmes. During the session, the panelists discussed the forces behind sustainable mining, taking on the sustainability challenge, capital risks, and unlocking sustainable value through innovation and digitalization.

Framing the sustainability conversation, BSR Associate Director, Ouida Chichester noted three key areas of sustainability that mining companies must focus on: climate change; technological advances and the future of work; and increasing human rights expectations. She noted that “Minerals and mining companies must reduce the climate impacts of their energy use by setting net zero by 2050 or sooner goals, and throughout their value chains.”

Regulations, investors, employees and customers are having a key influence on how mining companies are adapting, according to Alice Steenland, Dassault Systèmes Vice President, Group Sustainability. She added that millennials are integrating sustainability thinking into where they work and what they buy. These shifts, along with government regulations and actions such as the green deal in the EU, and China’s commitment to carbon neutrality, are pushing investors to allocate more to Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) funds, and that within five years they will overtake those currently in the mainstream.

With circular economy legislation, raw materials are at the center, providing an opportunity for the mining industry to build on this for business opportunities that could be very rich. “Technology is at the heart of moving from incremental improvements in sustainability in our existing system towards a very disruptive new model of production and consumption,” she added.

Thomas Grand, the Dassault Systèmes Vice President for Energy & Materials, noted that investors want a seal of sustainability on commodities. This, in essence, will force the entire chain to build robust audit trails as seen in the emergence of “green gold”, which impacts products created downstream. Sustainable labor also plays a role in greater transparency as it has led the market to turn away from commodities that cannot be mined responsibly, leading to innovations by batteries manufacturers to do without cobalt for example. For Grand, the diversity of people, culture, languages, locations, and commodities are key to the industries uniqueness, as he commented that “Sustainability must cut across all of this, across space, time, and value chain. It is a story of multi-disciplinary collaboration.”

“We think we’ve exhausted the mechanical advantage lever. We probably had some four ton trucks running around, we’ve progressed to 40 ton trucks, and today, some of our ultra-class trucks are sort of three, four story high vehicles that drive around carrying 400 ton payloads, we don’t see a 4,000 ton truck on the horizon. We see digital technology as our next frontier and our next lever,” was a key point raised by Richard Tyrer, Vice President of Technology Strategy with BHP as he explained the importance of digital technologies in enabling more innovation to drive safety, sustainability, and productivity.

He outlined three vital pillars that BHP is involved in its push:

  1. Move into the cloud to be able to move data quickly and connect people and teams together.
  2. Good quality data to make good decisions.
  3. Digital cross-functional teams to chase value of safety and sustainability, not just dollars.

Michelle Ash, GEOVIA CEO with Dassault Systèmes, commented that mining needs to think of things as systems and reinvent them. Breaking down some of the silos between mining, processing, logistics, maintenance and across mines, including collaboration across the industry and using the full ecosystem are keys to driving innovation. She noted that if we want to speed up rate of change, the industry needs to create genuine digital twins of geology, mining, and processing. By doing so it can try out different processing techniques and different ways of extracting mineral before anything is built. Such an approach will drive rapid change and a greater level of collaboration. It will also lead to less risk.

Technology also ties in with the realizing the workforce of the future as Ash stated: “If we want to attract young people to the mining industry, we need to have an absolute mandate around sustainability, but also interesting problems to solve using technology.”

To watch a replay of the live event panel, click here.

Increase Your Knowledge with Six Deeper-dive eSeminars

Following the live event panel, we were delighted to present six deep dive eSeminars that explored sustainability, safety, and productivity topics with technology in more details over the course of three days. We invite you to watch the following replays of these sessions:

Making Strategic Mine Planning Decisions Confidently in Times of Uncertainty: Planning operations with confidence, applying business strategy, and maximizing net present value by simulating thousands of economic scenarios to strategize long-term viability.

Sustainable and Efficient Mine Execution: End-to-end decision support and production management across the entire mining value chain to increase productivity and control costs.

Efficiently Plan and Schedule Your Mining Operations: Efficiently plan and schedule mining operations for mid- to short interval control

Protecting the Mining Value Chain by Understanding Geomechanics Risks and Hazards: How Geomechanics Simulations assist mines in reducing financial risks by improving safety and operational excellence to gain greater flexibility in realistic cave growths.

Performance Drive Capital Facilities Intelligence: Improving fixed plant reliability and maximizing performance through all stages of the asset’s life in operations.

Increase Confidence with Advanced Insights on Mining Intelligence: How systems optimization comprising sophisticated machine learning algorithms, addresses the operational mine lifecycle in its entirety.

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