Ukwazi Views

Ukwazi | Mining and the Circular Economy

Mining and the circular economy – debunking the myths

First things first, while “circular” and “green” are often used interchangeably, it is important to distinguish between them. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) defines a green economy as “one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.” A circular economy entails the recycling and reuse of materials and components, combined with the utilisation of sustainable inputs, such as renewable energy. While mining, rightfully so, has been perceived as relatively linear from a value chain perspective, a number of sector players have made deliberate efforts to capitalise on the benefits of a circular economy. Despite this, there are misconceptions surrounding mining companies and the role they play…

  1. Decarbonisation means less minerals and metals

As reiterated at the recent 2022 African Mining Indaba, guiding the world to a low-carbon future will actually require more minerals and metals rather than less. Alarmingly, sector players anticipate a significant production deficit between 2030 and 2040 but the fact remains that a steady supply of resources will be needed to achieve net-zero goals. Pertinent examples include metals that contribute to alternative and greener energy sources, such as battery metals, and platinum group metals (PGMs), which underpin highly-sought after hydrogen fuel cell technology.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict, and the geopolitical shift to be less reliant on Russian commodities, does present key green opportunities for South Africa, the current supplier of 80% and 40% of the globe’s platinum and palladium, respectively. Going forward, mining companies will need to leverage strategic supply gaps and be selective in who they supply to, if they are to guarantee the sustainability of future end-products.

  1. There aren’t any new opportunities to leverage between supply networks

As one of the globe’s biggest generators of waste, sector players are actually well-positioned to  reimagine and redesign the way they generate and capture economic value along their supply chains. While waste rock can be used in the construction of roads, and sludge from acid rock drainage treatment can be sold commercially for use in pigments, there are potentially many more ways waste can be repurposed: the recycling and reuse of vehicle parts and other bi-products, and the rehabilitation of mines into viable renewable energy or agricultural sites. Visibility and collaboration along supply networks will be essential to ensuring that all value is adequately extracted downstream.

  1. Mines will always need large amounts of water to operate

An obvious area where mines can contribute to a feasible circular economy is the efficient use of natural resources such as water. According to the African Circular Economy Alliance ,mining is the second-largest user of water in South Africa, after agriculture. But… what if little to no water was required to extract resources? While this seems almost impossible, the solution could be the creation of smart mines, where sustainability is built into the initial stages of the overall design process. In addition, improvement in water treatment technologies and the use of renewables, particularly solar for electrolysis, will help to create hydrogen for use on mines by splitting water, thus releasing oxygen instead of carbon-based emissions.

Ultimately, mining does possess many facets that can drive circular economy thinking; added to this, is rising investor and consumer expectations and increasing regulatory pressures. By fully embracing these principles the mining sector can successfully build a resilient system that is good for business, stakeholders and the environment.

Ukwazi | African Iron-Ore Industry

Opportunities unlocked through addressing fundamentals

18 November 2023

Article written by Donna Slater at Mining Weekly While it is home to several significant iron-ore producers, amid the opportunities…

Read More
Ukwazi | Green Metal Demand

The paradox of green metal demand and the Just Energy Transition

04 July 2023

By Spencer Eckstein – Director, Ukwazi Mining Studies At COP26, in Glascow 2021, the USA and certain EU members promised…

Read More
Ukwazi | Navigating Energy Mineral Demand In Botswana

Consultants can help country navigate energy minerals demand

29 May 2023

Article written by Cameron Mackay at Mining Weekly Owing to the increasing amount of mining activity expected in Botswana –…

Read More
Demand for PGMs on the rise

Company benefits from PGMs demand

12 February 2023

Article written by Sabrina Jardim at Mining Weekly With the increase in demand for platinum-group metals (PGMs), specialist mining services…

Read More
The viability of clean coal technologies

Clean Coal Technologies (CCT) – quo vadis?

16 November 2022

By Alan M. Clegg Pr.Eng Pr.CPM PMP FSAIMM – Chairman, Shumba Energy Ltd and Spencer Eckstein – Director, Business Development,…

Read More
Empowering SMMEs in the Mining Space

Three key ways to empower SA’s mining SMMEs

30 September 2022

Despite obvious challenges, including energy insecurity and policy uncertainty, South Africa’s immense natural resources, coupled with current macro factors, provide…

Read More
Mining and Climate Resilience

Refining Climate Resilience

01 September 2022

South Africa recently experienced flash floods in KwaZulu-Natal, causing loss of life and property, damage to homes, roads and railway…

Read More
PGMs Sector Growth

SA poised to benefit from PGMs growth

25 August 2022

South Africa is strategically poised to benefit from the growth trajectory of the platinum-group metals (PGMs) sector, as it holds about 80% of the world’s PGM resources.

Read More
Ukwazi | Green Economy and Manganese

Green economy will require more commodities

20 June 2022

Article written by Nadine Ramdass at Mining Weekly Rather than requiring fewer commodities, the green economy, and its resulting technological…

Read More

Just transition – A preliminary perspective

16 March 2022

Eskom and the coal industry are at the core of the just transition. Approximately, 75% of our electricity is coal…

Read More