The Deep Paradox of Mining

Professor Kevin Haines
August 2021

There is a deep paradox at the heart of the drive (sorry!) for increased usage of electric vehicles. Electric vehicles obtain their motive power from batteries. These batteries require substantial amounts of minerals (a solid naturally occurring pure inorganic chemical compound with a specific crystal structure) to function. These minerals are to be found within the Earth’s crust. To extract these minerals it is necessary to carry out large scale mining activities. The mining industry does not have the strongest record in terms of environmental factors or social impacts.

Is the solution to this paradox to be found in Green Mining?

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Electric (battery powered) vehicles and power storage systems seem to be here and here to stay. This means that the demand for minerals will only increase. This demand (and the investments it requires) can only be met if proper attention is also paid to the environmental and social impacts of increased mining activity and if sufficient attention is paid to matters of governance (transparency, anti-corruption, community engagement etc). The World Bank, for example, estimates that the production of minerals (including: graphite, lithium and cobalt) will increase by some 500% by 2050.

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To date, green mining has focused primarily on reducing environmental harms. Driven by the themes of: energy efficiency, enhanced productivity, waste management and water management the mining industry has sought to take advantage of new technology and modern techniques to improve performance – whilst continuing to be profitable. More recently, in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, mining companies are also increasingly cognizant of the potential impact of their activities on local communities and are, consequently, seeking to work with local communities in project development.

Sustainable Capital is working with several industry leaders in pioneering green mining projects (including: Intergroup Mining, Altech Chemicals and Energy Storage). Academic partnerships (taking advantage of cutting edge research) and a clear focus on impact and outcomes are some of the distinguishing features of these companies.

As the demand for minerals increases and the search for these minerals takes companies into ever more environmentally and socially sensitive parts of the World, the demand for mining to be green mining will also increase.

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