How to make copper mines emission free: new report

Capricorn Copper Mine, QLD. Owned by Capricorn Copper, Australia.

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A world first study, Zero Emission Copper Mine of the Future, lays out how Australian copper mining can be cleaner and smarter using emerging technologies.

The study identifies five targets: exploration, movement of materials, ventilation, processing, and use of water – in partnership with industry and government. Copper represents almost 2% of Australian exports, and will grow as productivity and brand reputation improves. Costs fall when mined in partnership with high tech and clean energy industries.

The Zero Emission Copper Mine of the Future report by the University of Sydney’s Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering sets out how Australian copper mining can become emission free over the next 30 years through the use of emerging technologies. This ‘world first’ roadmap was commissioned by the International Copper Association Australia (ICAA).

The range of technologies copper supports is vast: 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 are just some examples.

Achieving cutting edge innovation will also 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,” he 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,” John Fennell, ICAA CEO, said. “But we need to do things differently going forward.”

Fennell said this is 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 is 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.”

The report can be accessed at

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