Emission-free copper mines a possibility in Australia

The Olympic Dam mine. Image: BHP

The use of emerging technologies can set up Australia’s copper mines to be emission free over the next 30 years, according to the University of Sydney’s Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering.

The ‘Zero Emission Copper Mine of the Future’ report, commissioned by the International Copper Association Australia (ICAA), identifies five key target areas for technological innovation to reduce and ultimately eliminate mining emissions.

These include exploration, movement of materials, ventilation, processing and water use.

Achieving cutting edge innovation will depend on collaboration across five strategic levers: policy and programs, industry networks, capital enablers, future knowledge and an open mindset.

“A zero-emission copper mine of the future will be significantly different from the current copper mining system, and will require fundamental changes in how the mine sources, consumes and abates energy,” director of the Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering, Ashley Brinson said.

“To achieve a zero-emissions future, ’moonshot’ type thinking is needed and will require a joint commitment from research bodies, the public and private sectors.

John Fennell, ICAA chief executive added: “The resources sector, and copper mining in particular, faces big challenges – falling ore quality, fewer new deposits and much tougher licence to operate rules.

“But we need to do things differently going forward.”

Fennell said this was the first of three blueprints or horizon reports over three years, designed to clarify the vision, establish viable technologies, create an innovation culture and bring the industry together.

Copper supports a vast range of technologies, including autonomous drones and robot machinery, next generation sensors, mixed reality (immersive technology), wearable tech, in-situ ore recovery, novel leaching processes and on demand ventilation.

Copper is also widely used in green innovation, used by industries seeking to reduce their environmental impact.

“Hybrid and electric vehicles rely on copper, as do renewable energy sources such as solar photovoltaic, wind farms, hydroelectricity and associated grid infrastructure. Constructing a renewable energy system demands significantly more copper than traditional systems,” said Brinson.

“Copper plays an important role in the transition of society to a zero-carbon future.”