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Mining’s critical role in building a sustainable future

Mining’s critical role in building a sustainable future

In a post-COP26 world focused on reducing carbon emissions, clean energy and electric vehicles (EVs) are capturing a lot of attention (and investment). Yet significant sustainability gains are likely to come from an unexpected source: the mining industry.

The evolution to clean energy involves shifting from a fuel-intensive system dependent on oil and gas to a material-intensive system. As stated in a recent study by McKinsey & Company, the drive to net zero will be accompanied by soaring demand for raw materials: “The transition to a net-zero economy will be metal-intensive. As the move toward cleaner technologies progresses, the metals and mining sector will be put to the test: it will need to provide the vast quantities of raw materials required for the energy transition.”

Huge volumes of steel and copper will be needed for the infrastructure to generate, transport and distribute solar, wind, geothermal and hydrogen energy. A single wind turbine requires more than two hundred tons (180 metric tonnes) of steel, for example, while copper is needed for almost all electricity-related technologies. Fuel cells and EV batteries rely heavily on lithium, cobalt and nickel, and rare earth elements such as neodymium and samarium have become indispensable to making powerful magnets for wind turbines and EVs. It’s perhaps not surprising that shares in resources used for clean energy applications are often referred to as “green metal” stocks.

All these materials must be mined, but as a briefing article in The Economist put it: “The green revolution risks running short of minerals, money and places to build.” To mitigate that risk, the mining industry needs to increase its efforts to establish safer, environmentally friendly and socially responsible operations. Investments in digitalization, electrification, and automation, combined with better mining techniques that reuse waste and minimize the use of water, land and energy, will take mining companies on the path to a more sustainable business. As such, they need to invest in technology today that will make operations more productive and more efficient.

Last year, a Nokia-sponsored IDC InfoBrief identified sustainability as the mining industry’s number-one strategic objective: “With the global community and major investors becoming more aware and wary of the impact that mining operations can have on the environment in which they operate, mining organizations are utilizing technology to reduce the energy and resources required to function.”

Obviously, also recycling and reuse are a necessary part of the energy transition equation – and an emerging new dimension for the metals industry. Already today, roughly 85% of the total mass of a wind turbine can be recycled. A few months ago, a Danish company even announced 100% recyclable blades.

No green without digital, no digital without 5G

Pekka Lundmark, Nokia’s President and CEO, said at COP26: “There is no green without digital.” Digital technologies like the internet of things (IoT), data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and 5G will play a critical role in making all industries more sustainable — and mining is no exception.

Industrial automation can eliminate productivity bottlenecks, streamline operations, and minimize waste. Remote and autonomous operation can increase asset utilization, maximize operating hours, and lower fuel consumption. Predictive maintenance can reduce equipment and vehicle downtime. And electrification will help cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Every challenge is an opportunity. Climate change is a unique chance for companies to commit to joint goals and work together on sustainable solutions. Our communications industry sits at the heart of that because it enables many other industries to become safer, more sustainable, productive and efficient. And the natural resources sector is one of these.

Through a wide variety of Industry 4.0 use cases, powered by mission-critical communications, mining companies will be able to shape a greener future. Not just for their industry but for us all. At Nokia, we believe that digitalization, with 5G at its heart, will enable a sustainable industrial revolution.

For more information about Nokia solutions for the mining industry, visit our web page or download the IDC InfoBrief on digitalizing mining operations. To learn how the solutions we provide enable both environmental and societal benefits to individuals, industries and society, have a look the Nokia sustainability pages.

Marc Jadoul

About Marc Jadoul

Marc Jadoul is Strategic Marketing Director at Nokia. A computer scientist by education, and technology evangelist, storyteller, speaker, and blogger by vocation.

Author/co-author of 200+ papers, magazine articles and conference presentations, and a frequent speaker and panelist at industry events, Marc is an advocate of Albert Einstein’s dictum “if you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.”

Tweet me at @mjadoul

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