Building a sustainable and socially responsible future for the resources sector

While the worldwide demand for minerals and metals increases unabated, Australia – whose export resources sector is a cornerstone of its economy – continues to benefit.

In tandem, the global awareness of the potential negative social and environmental impacts of mining and related industries is also increasing and the industry continues to face additional challenges. For example, mining operations in Australia are currently addressing the mitigation of “Scope3 emissions”.

The Sustainable Resources Platform directly addresses this question; how can the mining and resources industry transform for a more sustainable and socially responsible future?

Research activity in the Platform focuses around three key themes:

  • Sustainable processes: new technologies to move towards ‘zero waste’ mining and help the sector transition to sustainable and socially responsible methods of processing and extraction
  • Renewable energy materials: production, use and recycling of minerals to support the renewable energy sector, batteries in particular
  • AI in mining: using AI to generate data-driven precision mining approaches and optimise mining practice

Through the Platform, Associate Professor Kathryn Mumford (Academic Lead) and Enterprise Professor Chris Goodes aim to reduce the environmental and social impacts of the resources sector, while contributing to clean and green solutions for the world. In practical terms, this means reducing the amount of waste generated in mining, creating more efficient processes and developing better ways to extract and use ‘energy materials’ such as graphite and lithium.

Paradoxically, the resources industry has been part of the problem but can also be an essential part of the solution,” Associate Professor Mumford says.

“For example, renewable energy generation and storage systems require minerals and metals of some kind, examples including the lithium used in battery storage and the copper used in electric vehicles. Mining of iron ore in Australia can be achieved with relatively low greenhouse emissions, and many companies are well on the way to achieving zero emissions in the next 10 years. More problematic are the emissions generated by customers (based mostly overseas) in converting the iron ore to steel and subsequent products. Around 1.7 tonnes of CO2 are generated per tonne of iron ore processed, and the steel industry contributes in the order of 7 per cent of global CO2 emissions”.

Key partnerships and outcomes related to the Platform include the Future Battery Industry CRC, which contributes to a range of industry focussed projects including enhance anode systems for batteries, improved extraction and use of battery chemicals such as nickel and cobalt and considering the full life cycle of EV battery systems. These activities are key to developing a viable scaled battery industry in Australia. As a participant of the ARC Centre of Excellence for ‘enabling the eco-efficient beneficiation of minerals’, the Platform plays a leading role developing new ways to ‘de-water’ mineral tailings for improved safety and reduced water use.

Professor Goodes credits the success of these sector partnerships to building common ground with industry partners: developing a common understanding of challenges and opportunities and understanding each other’s capabilities.

“It’s helpful to listen before acting”, he says, “to find the sweet spot between university capabilities and industry needs. It’s important to recognise the critical role of both industry and academic contributions to finding workable – and cost effective –solutions and articulate these in a way that resonates with industry.”

First published on 19 August 2022.

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