Efforts to wean the world from burning fossil fuels for transportation and energy generation will drive demand for commodities for years to come, paving the way for miners of so-called green metals to play a crucial part in solving some of the planet’s biggest problems, says Canadian miner Ivanhoe Mines.
In its second sustainability report, co-chairmen Robert Friedland and Yufeng ‘Miles’ Sun say that zero-emission, energy-efficient transportation, and the distribution and storage of grid-scale volumes of clean, renewable energy, will require new, long-term sources of platinum, palladium, rhodium, nickel, and especially copper.
“Our team works closely with many of the world’s leading automobile and technology companies, and one thing is inherently clear − copper is the king of the ‘green metals’. When it comes to solving the world’s most pressing environmental problems, almost every single solution drives you to copper – solar power, wind power, hydro power, and pure electric and fuel-cell electric vehicles (EV).”
The company notes that the average EV requires four times the copper of a standard vehicle, while wind and solar energy are considered even more significant drivers of future copper demand as they are up to 37 times more copper intensive than conventionally generated electricity.
“Our new mines will produce many of the metals that the world needs for cleaner air and water,” the co-chairmen say, referring to the Kamoa-Kakula copper and the Kipushi zinc/copper/germanium/silver mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as the Platreef platinum/palladium/nickel/copper/gold mine in South Africa.
Ivanhoe believes that Kamoa-Kakula, with a projected peak copper production of more than 700 000 t/y, has an increasingly important role to play as the world moves toward a more sustainable and energy-efficient future, while Kipushi has a similar promising future.
The palladium, platinum and rhodium that will come from Platreef are crucial to catalytic converters, which are used to control harmful emissions in exhausts from vehicles and factories. Platinum is also vital for fuel-cell EVs.
Ivanhoe points that that not only are the metals that the company will produce important, but also the way in which they will be mined. Reflecting on the tailings pond collapse in Brazil earlier this year, Friedland and Sun say that it has led to Ivanhoe taking stock of its risk management practices.
At Platreef and Kamoa-Kakula, the majority of tailings will be returned back underground, into the mined-out workings as paste backfill, with the remainder pumped to small tailings storage facilities equipped with state-of-art monitoring systems.
At Kipushi, Ivanhoe will construct a small tailings impoundment facility, but in light of the Brazil accident, Ivanhoe has embarked on additional, independent engineering audits of the planned storage facilities.
Several global miners last week revealed details on tailings dams, after ethical investors sought the information following the January tailings dam collapse in Brazil, which killed 300 people.