Sunday, 23 May 2021

Sustainable Minerals '21: Provisional programme now available

Sustainable Minerals '21, MEI's 6th International Symposium on Sustainable Minerals, is organised in consultation with Prof. Markus Reuter, of SMS Group GmbH, Germany and is sponsored by FLSmidth. The media sponsor is International Mining, and the Coalition for Eco-Efficient Comminution (CEEC), the Cornwall Mining Alliance and the Critical Minerals Association are Industry Associates.

Originally scheduled for 3 days next month, the unprecedented number of abstracts received has allowed us to extend the conference to 4 days, from June 21-24, and the provisional programme is now published.

The conference comes at a critical time for the minerals industry and the outlook for sustainability, as earlier in the month the International Energy Agency reported that the world won’t be able to tackle the climate crisis unless there is a sharp increase in the supply of metals required to produce clean energy technologies, the demand soaring for copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt and rare earth elements. But they are all vulnerable to price volatility and shortages, the agency warned, because the quality of available deposits is declining and mining companies face stricter environmental and social standards (posting of 13 May). Already the demand for copper, needed for every aspect of the green revolution, has soared, such that the price is now at a record high.

LME Copper prices US$/tonne over 2 years

With a world population of over 7.8 billion, sustaining our way of life is becoming a major issue, but it is not widely acknowledged that a sustainable society is very much dependent on a sustainable mining industry. Mining never gets easier, the tonnages mined steadily increase while the available ores become ever leaner and complex, so in order for the industry to be sustainable it must continually adapt to these changes and innovate.

Ores are finite resources, so there will be an increasing strain on primary sources, and a concomitant increase in energy and water requirements. Critical to a sustainable future, however, is the need to move from a linear to a circular economy, by retreating old tailings dumps and crucially by recycling materials at the end of their effective lives.

Recycling is viewed by many as the panacea of sustainability. Once an article has reached the end of its useful life, you take it to a municipal waste centre, and it is recycled for further use. This is fine for products made from a single material such as glass, which can be melted down and reused, or for certain metals which are used in their native form, such as copper and lead. However when metals are alloyed with other metals or non-metals, recycling becomes much more challenging and if the metals and other elements are in tiny amounts in a device, then the problem becomes even more complex. Perhaps the greatest recycling challenge is that of recovering metals from waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and other complex high-tech products. 

Elements in a smart phone. Source
The 60 presentations in the programme will cover all these aspects, and will include three important keynote lectures. "A Life Cycle-Based, Sustainability-Driven Innovation Approach in the Minerals Industry" will be presented by Prof. Luis Marcelo Tavares, of the University of Rio de Janeiro, "Why mine closure should not be considered just an environmental issue" will be presented by Prof. Anna Littleboy, of the Cooperative Research Centre for Transformations in Mining Economies, Australia and "The war on waste’ How could the mining industry respond?" will be presented by Dr. Anita Parbhakar-Fox, of the Sustainable Minerals Institute at the University of Queensland, Australia.

There are great challenges ahead and mineral processing will be at the forefront of the future quest for a circular economy. Highlighting this, Prof. Markus Reuter will chair a panel discussion "What are the limits to achieving a circular economy?".

Registration is now open for what will be a crucial conference, not only for the minerals industry, but for society in general.


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