The Future for Sustainable Mining in Africa Lies in Round Considering

Mining and the round financial system usually are not phrases that historically slot in the identical sentence however in a decarbonised world extra minerals and metals will probably be required, not much less. Mining shouldn’t be usually related to visions of a round financial system. But when the world is to transition to a low-carbon future, extra minerals and metals will probably be required, not much less. This shift would require huge volumes of copper, lithium, cobalt, platinum, chrome, and manganese. The African Mining Indaba 2022 programme will cowl these points in Cape City from 9 – 12 Could 2022.

The round financial system (CE) shouldn’t be a brand new idea, however it has been rising in significance, not too long ago promoted by influential organisations such because the Ellen MacArthur Basis and the World Financial Discussion board. In our present financial system, we take supplies from the Earth, make merchandise from them, and ultimately throw them away as waste – the method is linear. In a round financial system, in contrast, we cease waste from being produced within the first place.

The round financial system relies on three ideas, pushed by design. First, eradicate waste and air pollution, then flow into merchandise and supplies at their highest worth and at last regenerate nature. It’s underpinned by a transition to renewable power and supplies. A round financial system decouples financial exercise from the consumption of finite assets. It’s a resilient system that’s good for enterprise, folks, and the surroundings.

Africa is endowed with considerable mineral assets, together with gold, silver, copper, uranium, cobalt, and lots of different metals that are key inputs to manufacturing processes all over the world. Nonetheless, extracting these valuable assets from the bottom comes at an environmental value that’s more and more coming beneath scrutiny and that’s the place round considering can play an enormous half.

The advantages of a round financial system

The African Round Economic system Alliance (ACEA) is a government-led coalition of African nations with a mission to spur Africa’s transformation right into a round financial system that delivers financial progress, jobs, and constructive environmental outcomes. By adopting CE ideas, Africa’s mining trade can seize alternatives to scale back prices while additionally mitigating dangers related to shifting shopper and investor preferences, and new laws and requirements.

In line with the report ‘Rising Circularity in Africa’s Mining Sector’ produced by the ACEA, given the financial contribution of mining to African international locations, CE would considerably contribute to making a sustainable mining trade. For international locations that rely upon mining as the first financial exercise, it contributes significantly to their international earnings. For instance, Botswana mining has accounted for roughly 85 p.c of nationwide international alternate earnings, 33 p.c of presidency income, and 25 p.c of GDP for the previous 4 many years. Given the financial contribution of mining to African international locations, the mining trade has a crucial function to play in supporting the transition to a round financial system.

As we transfer alongside the power transition and the demand for Africa’s mineral wealth will increase, adopting a CE technique can help the mining trade to adapt to elevated strain on restricted assets. There are, nevertheless, challenges that have to be overcome on this round journey together with poor infrastructure. The dearth of unpolluted power assets for the mining sector will impede the drive to scale back carbon emissions within the trade.

One of many advantages of CE is its capability to lower working prices by growing operational effectivity. A part of a CE technique is to optimise the usage of assets, due to this fact designing environment friendly methods that use the CE ideas will scale back consumption depth and the price of sourcing assets. An instance of this may be witnessed with Syama Gold Mine’s shift to renewable power from its present supply of energy, a 28 MW diesel generator. The mine signed a 16-year contract for a hybrid energy plant with Aggreko. In 2020, Syama Gold mine’s value of electrical energy decreased by 40 p.c and CO2 emissions by 20 p.c.

Three steps to a round future

The ACEA recognized three essential CE ideas for the African mining trade to have interaction with. First to recycle, scale back, and reuse assets and waste. Secondly to regenerate pure assets, and at last to design out waste.

One of many chief areas for reuse is available in the usage of water by the mining sector. Water is used to course of minerals, transport slurry, and management mud and a big mine can use as a lot as 30,418 megalitres every year, sufficient to feed greater than half of Africa’s inhabitants for a day. In line with the ACEA, the mining trade is the second-largest water person proper behind agriculture in South Africa. Efficient administration of unpolluted water and wastewater is vital to sustaining provides of this useful resource.

Using water could be decreased if the mines’ wastewater is recycled, reused, concentrated, and reclaimed. Mining firms can enhance wastewater administration in 3 ways: lining waste and tailing dams to keep away from water seepage, placing wastewater in tanks to forestall evaporation, and filtering water from slurry/sludge/tailings earlier than storing the waste in dams. Anglo American is creating a know-how that can shut the loop by making a sealed system that will increase effectivity and directs water recycling and reuse.

Different areas of the CE that fall into this class embody recycling and reusing car components, repurposing waste rock, recycling, and reprocessing tailings, recycling, and reusing development supplies, rehabilitating mines for financial growth, and recycling meals waste for power era.

Use renewable power and scale back power consumption

Mining makes use of a number of power, there isn’t a escaping that. It’s essential all through the lifecycle of a mine from exploration to processing of the ultimate product. Historically the sector has relied on diesel and electrical energy from the grid to fulfill these wants. For instance, figures from Glencore present that they use as much as 210 petajoules of power yearly, equal to the power consumption of ~12.7 million folks in Africa. This excessive power use comes with an elevated degree of carbon emissions.

Switching to renewable power assets akin to photo voltaic and wind power to energy mining operations can assist to regenerate pure methods. When in comparison with conventional diesel-powered turbines, renewable power is cheaper and produces much less CO2 emissions. One mine that has benefited from a transition to renewables is the Syama Gold Mine in Mali.

The necessity to design round mines

A extra forward-looking and fewer accessible answer to lowering useful resource consumption and recycling waste is designing sensible mines with the surroundings in thoughts. This entails constructing sustainability into the design course of from the outset and seeking to put money into renewable power akin to photo voltaic and wind and using applied sciences to eradicate water utilization in mines. This may be most possible for upcoming mining initiatives on the continent.

Some firms are already placing redesigning mining operations into consideration. Anglo American is at the moment investing in exploring a FutureSmart Mine that will probably be round, save prices, enhance effectivity, and ease mines’ operations.


By Mark Venables, Advisor at African Mining Indaba

Edited by Zintle Nkohla

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