Analysis by engineering company Weir Group notes that without action, energy use in the mining industry is set to trend higher in the coming years as demand increases for metals like copper, nickel and zinc

Mining industry decarbonisation challenges

Mining plays an essential role in providing the metals used at the heart of the modern economy (Credit: Shutterstock/Sunshine Seeds)

The global mining industry must move away from legacy systems and processes if it is to meet its decarbonisation challenges, says a report.

The analysis by engineering company Weir Group calculates mining’s share of global energy consumption and identifies ways the industry can aid the transition to net-zero emissions in order to help reach the Paris Agreement goals.

The report analyses mine energy data from more than 40 published studies to give a comprehensive understanding of where energy is consumed in mining and minerals processing.

It shows that the total amount of power used by the mining industry – which plays an essential role in providing the metals used at the heart of the modern economy – is equal to 3.5% of global energy use.

“The mining industry is central to economic development globally, with critical minerals enabling the low-carbon transition required in the rest of the economy,” said Weir Group CEO Jon Stanton.

“But the environment in which it will operate in future will be very different from the past, requiring comprehensive change and investment.”

Stanton believes mining needs to become more sustainable and efficient if it is to provide essential resources the world needs for decarbonisation while reducing its own environmental impact.


Improved energy efficiency in comminution can help mining industry with its decarbonisation challenges

While the report recognises the importance of the metals produced by mining to the energy transition, it notes that without action, energy use in the industry itself is set to trend higher in the coming years as demand increases for metals like copper, nickel and zinc.

Weir Group suggests there are technologies available today that could make a significant difference to this trend.

It highlights that comminution – the process of crushing and grinding minerals – is the single largest user of energy at mine sites, typically accounting for 25% of mining’s final energy consumption.

This is equivalent to the power used by 221 million typical UK homes, or 1% of total consumption globally, according to the analysis. Comminution is therefore a natural target for the most impactful energy savings opportunities, it added.

Small improvements in comminution technologies can lead to relatively large savings in both energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

The report highlights that a 5% incremental improvement in energy efficiency across comminution could result in a greenhouse gas emissions reduction of more than 30 million tonnes of CO2.

It added that the replacement of traditional comminution equipment with new grinding technology also reduces indirect emissions in the mining value chain, for example by removing the need for the manufacture of emission-intensive steel grinding balls.

Of the remaining energy consumption by the mining industry, diesel in varied forms of mobile equipment accounts for 46%, electricity in mining (ventilation) 15% and “other electricity” makes up 14%.


Optimisation, big data and AI can help mining industry meet its decarbonisation challenges

Other significant opportunities identified by the report for reducing mining’s energy consumption include optimisation, big data and artificial intelligence.

It notes that if zero-emissions energy sources – such as renewable energy, energy storage and alternative fuels – are deployed for mining equipment, then the industry may well be able to achieve zero emissions, leaving a relatively small role for offsets and carbon credits to play.

The mining industry is under increasing pressure to produce essential minerals that support some of the biggest global structural trends, from population growth to urbanisation and decarbonisation.

Copper, nickel, steel and lithium are core components of electricity transmission and storage, electric vehicles and renewable energy infrastructure.

Weir Group said the move to a decarbonised economy will result in increased primary consumption of these mined commodities, even after factoring for recycling, so the company believes it is important mining itself becomes “more sustainable”.