Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Greening the Mining Industry - Part 2

Green Design


There is no doubt that dealing with issues of sustainability is difficult. While there is a level of awareness among organisations of the coming need to achieve ‘sustainability’ goals, they are not yet sure of what governments may require of them, so it is difficult to plan responses. There is reasonable clarity on what the issues are: enhanced greenhouse effect, continental and global fresh water availability, toxicity, and eventually issues of ongoing availability of some resources. Planning for success in a market regime where external forces are poorly understood is a great challenge. Even so, a cursory analysis of the likely scenarios indicates that everybody will need to be reducing their greenhouse gas contributions, reducing their impact on the water cycle and reducing the inputs of toxic materials to the environment.

So what can organisations be doing and thinking about now to help them position themselves to be competitive in a world where their ability to comply with government regulations and to do business sustainably, may determine their ongoing existence?

Firstly, companies need to understand and accept that the world is changing, and that societal pressures will require them to respond. If we accept that there is a need to do business differently, the response needs to consider remediating for current operations, and adopting new practices for new operations.

For the mining industry, where particular operations may persist for more than 50 years, there are many current operations with long futures still ahead of them, and no doubt many planned operations will be operating well into the 21st century. Interestingly, many of the projected consequences of global climate change are expected to occur within that same timeframe.

Introducing the new systems and procedures to new operations will be challenging, but nowhere near as hard as retrofitting brownfield operations. The best time to position for success in greenfield operations is during the design phase. This article introduces some of the issues around incorporating sustainability requirements in the design phase. Remediating brownfield operations will be the subject of later articles – so keep an eye on future issues of Symbiosis.

Are we prepared?

In a survey conducted by PWC in 2008 (Table 1) less than 10% of resources industry CEO’s had a high level of confidence in their greenhouse emissions data. More that 50% had taken little or no action to address the issues.
Reporting of greenhouse emission will be required by the Australian Government for almost all mining companies commencing in the financial year 2008-2009. Clearly the level of reparedness for the upcoming requirements in Australia is low, and yet the time of implementation is very near!

What can you do?

Mining Companies need to approach the process of smart design in the following stages;

• Understand the issues
• Work out the information you need
• Simulate and design iteratively until the optimal design is achieved.

Understand the issues

I dealt with the high level issues of sustainability in the mining industry in issue n. Broadly speaking, the considerable interest and debate around the globe on climate change means proactive action is very important and mining companies will need to respond quickly and credibly if they are to retain their ‘licence to operate’. It’s nothing new, the mining industry has been responding to changing community attitudes for the last 3000 years.
Work out the information you need.

In order to respond to anthropogenic climate drivers, and government and community requirements to report on those responses, as well as potentially develop new markets, products and businesses, organisations need to identify what information they need to be collecting. A number of organisations have commenced this work. Firstly the Global Reporting Initiative , is one organisation (see Callout 1) that has widespread support and hasas well as a framework which is currently being used for many nations’ emissions reporting requirements. The ‘Mining and Metals’ sector supplement includes specific details of the information and procedures that should be considered. The Australian Government’s National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act (NGER) provides specific requirements for Australia, and other jurisdictions should publish their requirements in due course.

Iterative simulation and design

The ability to optimise a process for any particular outcome is best achieved in the design of that process, before large expenditures on capital works and equipment make later changes very expensive. Adisa Azapagic of the University of Surrey has studied many aspects of this issue including sustainable development indicators and process design. In these works, Azapagic develops a methodology for considering sustainability issues in the design of chemical processes and further develops the ideas by translating that to the mining industry .

In order to do this, you require an intimate knowledge of the mining process and an holistic view that takes account of the affects of process inputs, as well as the downstream effects of process outputs. That is, it optimises the process not just within the process, but external to the process.

Most industries have a good understanding of how to design a process to optimise financial outcomes, indeed financial outcomes are usually they way that we decide on the viability of an investment. Unfortunately, environmental outcomes are usually considered late in the planning cycle, and certainly after the major design decisions have been made.

Other recent contributions to the literature detail how to measure sustainability outcomes in infrastructure projects and Mangena and Brent describe the application of a Life Cycle Impact Assessment framework in the coal industry . Finally, the development of a mining Life Cycle Assessment Model (LICYMIN) at the Imperial College London provides a solid basis for using the other tools to model a mining operation throughout its whole life (Figure 1).

Figure 1 - The mining life cycle impact assessment system and model boundaries. [after Durucan et al 2006]


These and many other works have defined the macro and micro level processes and the inputs and outputs of all stages of a mining operation. They explain how these data can be used to optimise sustainable design through a process of simulation in a systems thinking environment. Importantly, this allows these new decision making criteria to be included along with the economic criteria (which are also in the models). Modelling different scenarios in a simulation environment allows all aspects to be considered to provide the best possible outcome; for the company and for the environment. Most importantly, the case is made for the benefits of including sustainability at the design stage rather than trying to squeeze it in later.

With an understanding of how to include sustainability issues into the concept stage design process for a new operation, at both the macro process level (mining, processing, remediation etc) as well as the micro level (coal washing process, copper leaching process etc) and a solid grasp of the data that will need to be captured, mining companies can begin to plan for future reporting requirements.

1 comment:

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