The mining industry holds the key to sustaining the current pace of global development. However, heightened concerns about global warming and pollution also make it imperative to use eco-friendly and sustainable solutions for extracting natural resources. Governments and miners worldwide are actively trying to deploy new technologies and innovations to reduce mining waste and promote responsible mining practices at every stage of the mining life cycle.
Technologies such as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) can sharply reduce the ecological impact of mining activities. CCS involves trapping the carbon dioxide that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere during the mining process at its source, transporting it to an underground storage location and trapping it for thousands or millions of years. Several CCS projects are expected to go on stream in a few years.
Another approach being tried is to deploy mine machinery that run on clean fuels. For instance, a Canadian Green Energy initiative has developed and deployed hybrid diesel-electric loaders for use in mines. This new loader's electric motor is powerful enough to perform the tasks of a diesel loader while decreasing poisonous gas emissions between 40% and 70%. These green mining vehicles not only enable the mining industry to lower emissions, but also assist them to easily integrate clean energy sources.
The key objective of green mining is to reduce the footprint on the environment caused by acid-related damage from mining activities. One of the approaches used here is to deploy zero-discharge processes that "re-mine" existing waste materials to recover valuable metals and minerals. In another novel approach, scientists from the University of York in the United Kingdom will explore phyto-mining -- using plants to recover metals from mine tailings. Through the 'PHYTOCAT' project they will try to recover platinum group metals discarded during the mining process.
Additionally, efforts are being made to leave behind a healthy ecosystem at the end of the mining cycle through mine closure and rehabilitation. For example, scientists have developed a polymer that facilitates plant growth in metal-contaminated soils. The polymer will reduce erosion risks through restoring vegetation and lead to stable ecosystems after mining has been completed.
A major focus area for greening is cleaning up the water used during the mining process, especially during fracking for natural gas. Currently a single well uses 15 million liters of water and up to 50% of it flows out, contaminated with salts and sometimes radioactive materials. New technologies like ozone-based treatment are being employed to clean up this water and make it usable. The market for this clean-up alone is expected to be worth $1.6 billion in the next 5 years, luring businesses into it.
There is still a long way to go in minimizing environmental problems caused by mining. But companies and governments are taking a serious look at the problem to leverage technology and innovation to take us a step closer to a greener, sustainable tomorrow.