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Visualizing the Importance of Environmental Management in Mining

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The following content is sponsored by the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining “IGF”.

Environmental Management in Mining

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Water and Mining

The Importance of Environmental Management in Mining

A mine will always impact the environment, but the question is to what degree?

The responsible management of natural resources and ecosystems such as soils, plants, animals, water and air, and the services they provide, is central to the efforts of any society seeking to become more sustainable.

The Intergovernmental Forum on Mining “IGF” has identified four issues that governments could effectively manage to reach sustainability goals.

  1. Water Management
  2. Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services
  3. Mine Waste Management
  4. Emergency Preparedness

These four key issues are critical for governments and communities to consider to ensure mining and the environment can coexist for the benefit of all.

Issue #1: Water Management

According to the IGF, U.S. mining operations used 5,526 million cubic meters of water, amounting to 1% of the country’s total water use in 2015.

Mining is a very water intensive industry. In mineral processing, slurry transport, dust suppression, and to meet the water needs of employees, large-scale mining operations use significant amounts of groundwater and surface water across the mine life cycle.

Mining operations need water to process ore and run camp operations. Mines also need to manage water that comes in contact with operations, through rainfalls and runoff.

The protection of water resources applies to both surface and groundwater, and these water resources are increasingly under strain due to:

  • Climate change
  • Variable precipitation
  • Growing populations, increased industrial and agricultural activity

Competing demands for water resources from the mining sector, agriculture, households, from other industries and sectors, and for conservation and leisure—ensure that governments will always play a critical role in water management throughout the life of a mine, not only at the site itself but across watersheds and beyond national borders.

Issue #2: Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

Mining projects have the potential to impact biodiversity and ecosystem services throughout their lifecycle. Understanding how mining can impact biodiversity is vital to mitigate the harmful impacts of mining on the biodiversity and ecosystem

Biodiversity delivers many benefits to their surrounding communities known as ecosystem services—and a mining project has direct and indirect impacts before, during and after mining operations on these services.

Direct Impacts:

  • Habitat loss
  • Ecosystem fragmentation and degradation
  • Water, air, soil and noise pollution

Indirect Impacts:

  • Human migration seeking opportunities
  • Increased hunting, fishing, gathering and land clearance for agriculture
  • Unintentional introduction of invasive species to an ecosystem

Governments, when considering the merits of a proposed mining project, will have to weigh the economic and development needs of the country and the local community against its conservation and environmental goals.

Issue #3: Mine Waste Management

Mining moves and processes large amounts of materials to extract metals. The excess material is known as mine waste. Mine wastes can contain minerals that are reactive which could be released from the rock when it is mined, crushed, and exposed to air and water.

Mine waste makes up the largest amount of material that is mined. The strip ratio defines how much waste rock there is compared to valuable ore. For example, a 2:1 strip ratio means that mining one tonne of ore will require mining two tonnes of waste rock.

Waste management in mining is complex and incorporates a range of disciplines, including geology, geochemistry, civil engineering, and geotechnical engineering.

Waste rock storage facilities, leach pads, and tailings storage facilities are large structures that must be carefully engineered to ensure they are stable over time and the safety of workers and the public.

Governments should set international standards within their own jurisdictions to ensure the proper construction and maintenance of waste rock facilities.

Issue #4: Emergency Preparedness

Emergency preparedness involves understanding the likelihood of an emergency situation and its potential consequences, taking proactive action to prevent the hazard, preparing to mitigate emergency effects, responding appropriately, communicating effectively, and recovering afterwards.

This relates to:

  • Industrial emergencies
  • Natural and climate-related disasters
  • Health emergencies
  • Political and security risk

Governments have a strong role to play in emergency preparedness, ensuring that responses are swift, organized and coordinated, and that all relevant stakeholders, from local communities to staff, are safe and protected.

Resources and Communities

Mineable deposits occur in both convenient and inconvenient places, close to or distant from communities, close to or distant from water sources, and close or distant from farm land or ecologically sensitive areas.

Mining will always have an impact. The active and sustainable management of these natural resources before, during, and after mining will help to avoid negative impacts where possible and could even mean excluding mining.

A failure to manage the four issues of mining on the environment can threaten the viability of operations, but can also undermine the relationships between a mining company, affected communities, and all levels of government.

The Intergovernmental Forum on Mining “IGF” is creating the policy framework to address the importance of environmental management in mining.

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Copper: Critical Today, Tomorrow, and Forever

We use copper everywhere in our daily lives. This infographic highlights the uses of copper and its applications in various industries.

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uses of copper in transportation

As we go about checking our phones for the latest updates, watching our favorite television shows, or even cooking our daily meals, we often don’t think about the uses of copper and other metals that fuel, power, and drive our modern lives.

From electrical appliances to jewelry, healthcare, and transport—we use copper everywhere–and its applications are only growing as the world moves towards sustainable technologies.

The Material for a Modern Economy

Today’s infographic comes to us from Trilogy Metals and shines a light on the varied uses of copper and the important role it plays in enabling a cleaner, greener future.

Uses of copper infographic

Trilogy Metals

Understanding the Role of Copper Today

Modern economies rely on infrastructure, transportation, healthcare, construction, and energy utilities. Copper is critical to each one of these industries—supporting economic growth, urbanization, higher living standards, and a sustainable future.

How does copper do all this?

The element has five key properties that make it an integral part of the modern economy:

  1. High conductivity
  2. Pressure resistance
  3. Corrosion resistance
  4. Antimicrobial properties
  5. Ductility

Let’s look at how these properties factor into major uses of the red metal today.

Copper Builds: Construction and Infrastructure

The construction and infrastructure industries use more than 40% of all copper produced. Copper’s properties make it the optimal choice for various construction activities:

  • Roofing: Copper’s wind resistance, aesthetic appeal, and sustainability make it a great roofing material.
  • Tubing: Residential heating and water systems use copper tubes for copper’s high thermal conductivity and antimicrobial properties.
  • Electric grids: The generation, transmission, distribution, and consumption of electricity all rely on copper wiring for its electrical conductivity and malleability.

In addition, copper lightning conductors are the longstanding protectors of buildings when lightning strikes—a further testament to its electrical properties.

Despite its widespread usage, copper remains highly affordable. Without copper, powering, wiring, and protecting our homes would prove costly and difficult.

Copper Moves: Transportation

From gas-powered cars and electrical vehicles (EVs) to trains and airplanes, copper is an essential part of our daily commute.

Here are some interesting uses of copper in transportation:

Means of TransportationWhere Copper is UsedCopper's Role
AirplanesWiring and equipment
  • A single Boeing 747-200 Jet contains 632,000 feet of copper wire.

  • Copper is used to make busbars and lock wires for aircraft.

  • Landing gear parts and bearings make use of copper alloys to withstand high pressures.
Electric Vehicles (EVs)Wiring, voltage transmission, and motors
  • Electric vehicles can contain up to 368 kilograms (813 lbs) of copper, depending on their size and type.

  • EVs rely on copper’s electrical conductivity in batteries, wiring systems, and charging stations.

  • High-speed trains use copper alloys to maintain electrical contact at high speeds.
Cars and other modesWiring, radiators, brake-tubing, and motors
  • The average luxury car contains 1.6 km (5,249 feet) of copper.

  • Using copper in motors increases efficiency, resulting in higher power generation and longer distances.

  • Brake-tubing systems utilize copper’s anti-corrosive and pressure-resistant properties.

  • Copper makes heat radiators smaller, lighter, and more affordable.

As the global population grows, more transportation services will be required—and copper will continue to play a crucial role.

Copper Cares: Healthcare and Hospitals

Did you know that copper can kill 99.9% of E.Coli within two hours of exposure?

This, alongside the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, makes copper’s antimicrobial properties and healthcare applications more important than ever.

Copper helps us lead healthier lives in many ways.

Where Copper is FoundCopper's Role
HospitalsCopper’s ability to kill bacteria improves the safety of high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs and bed handles.
Daily DietsCopper is vital to the normal development of the brain, and adults require 1-2mg of copper in their daily diets.

More than 500 antimicrobial copper alloys are registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. With further research, copper could play an even bigger role in healthcare.

Copper Strengthens: Jewelry and Coinage

Copper’s durability and aesthetic appeal make it ideal for usage in jewelry and coinage, where it’s present in significant quantities.

For instance, 18K gold jewelry typically contains 75% gold, 15% silver, and 10% copper. Not only does copper strengthen gold and silver jewelry, but its alloys (brass and bronze) are also commonly used to make jewelry items that are affordable and appealing.

Furthermore, many of the coins we use are made from copper and its alloys. To be precise, two properties of copper are key to producing durable and safe coins:

  1. Corrosion Resistance: Copper-nickel alloy coins do not tarnish.
  2. Electrical Conductivity: Copper-nickel coins have specific electronic signatures that help prevent fraud in vending and coin-handling machines.

Copper Comforts: Homes and Households

The average single-family home contains around 200 kilograms (439 lbs) of copper.

Here’s how it breaks down, along with the amount of copper in general appliances:

Appliance/MaterialAmount of Copper Contained (kg)
Building Wire88.5
Plumbing tubes and fittings68.5
Air conditioners 23.5
Heat Pumps21.7
Built-in appliances and other hardware21.0
Dishwashers2.2
Refrigerators2.1

But that’s not all.

In addition to home appliances, copper also plays an important role in objects that we use on a daily basis. According to BBC, a typical iPhone contains 15 grams of copper on average—approximately 10% of the phone’s weight.

Copper is an integral part of the modern economy today. Its unique properties enable urbanization and economic development at low costs—and the story doesn’t end here.

Why Copper Tomorrow?

As the world transitions towards a cleaner energy mix, copper will be an essential material in empowering a more sustainable future.

Copper in Renewable Energy

According to McKinsey, a whopping 73% of global power generation will come from renewable energy sources by 2050—and copper has a significant role to play in this transition.

Solar and wind energy farms are heavily dependent on copper. Cabling and heat-exchange in solar and wind farms are the primary applications of copper in renewable energy generation.

For starters, wind farms can contain anywhere between 4 to 15 million pounds of copper. Moreover, solar photovoltaic farms require 9,000 pounds of copper per megawatt of energy. To put that into context, India’s solar power generation capacity is 31,696 megawatts—which alone would require about 322 million pounds of copper.

Copper in Electric Vehicles

As the standard benchmark for electrical conductivity, copper is indispensable for EVs. The growing EV market could bolster copper demand in the near future.

Copper is used in EV batteries, coils, wiring, and charging stations. As per current growth projections, by 2030, more than 250,000 tonnes of copper will be needed as part of the windings in electric traction motors in on-road EVs.

The transition to clean energy, coupled with urbanization and economic development, implies that copper is critical for the future.

However, copper’s importance to the future is a double-edged sword and raises concerns about the sustainability of its supply—will there be enough?

Copper Forever: Sustainable Material

From the 5.8 trillion pounds of known copper resources, only 12% have been mined throughout history—and thanks to copper’s recyclability, almost all of that is still in circulation.

Not only does recycled copper offer the same quality and benefits as newly mined copper, but it also saves a massive 40 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. Additionally, copper recycling uses 80-90% less energy than mining, and a total of 8.5 million tonnes of the red metal are produced from recycled scrap each year.

Copper’s recyclability makes it reusable for years to come, complementing the path to sustainable development.

Copper: Critical Today, Tomorrow, and Forever

The exceptional properties of copper allow for widespread applications, which continue to grow as the world shifts towards clean energy.

And since we need copper for all aspects of life, its demand will always persist.

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Lithium-Cobalt Batteries: Powering the Electric Vehicle Revolution

Which minerals are used to power an electric vehicle? This infographic highlights the role of lithium and cobalt in EV battery technology.

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Lithium-cobalt batteries

Lithium-Cobalt Batteries: Powering the EV Revolution

Countries across the globe are working towards a greener future and electric vehicles (EVs) are a key piece of the puzzle.

In fact, the EV revolution is well underway, rising from 17,000 electric cars in 2010 to 7.2 million in 2019—a 423x increase in less than a decade. At the same time, we often take for granted the variety of materials that make modern technology work. Going electric requires the use of strategic minerals, especially cobalt.

Today’s infographic comes to us from Fuse Cobalt and looks into how the cobalt in lithium batteries makes the difference for powerful and reliable battery technology.

Edging Over the Competition: The Lithium-Cobalt Combination

There are five primary lithium battery combinations for EVs, each with pros and cons:

  • Lithium Nickel Cobalt Aluminum (NCA)
  • Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt (NMC)
  • Lithium Manganese Oxide (LMO)
  • Lithium Titanate (LTO)
  • Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP)

From the plethora of lithium-ion battery compositions, EV manufacturers prefer the lithium-cobalt combination. As a result, NCA and NMC batteries are the most prevalent in EVs.

NCA batteriesNMC batteries
Offer high specific energy and power
Allow EVs to travel farther
Offer a similar caliber of performance
Use less cobalt, making them less expensive
More prone to overheating
Use more cobalt, making them more expensive
Higher overall safety
Commonly found in Tesla EVsCommonly found in Nissan, Chevrolet, and BMW EVs

The low energy density and power of the other batteries make them impractical for long-range EVs—and it’s partially due to the lack of cobalt.

Why Lithium-Cobalt?

When it comes to powering EVs, lithium-cobalt batteries are unmatched. Specific properties of cobalt make them stand out from the rest:

  • High energy density
  • Thermal stability
  • High specific power
  • Low self-discharge rate
  • Low weight
  • Recyclability

Not only do lithium-cobalt batteries allow EVs to travel farther, but they also improve safety and sustainability.

Cobalt: The Stable Battery Element

Cobalt’s high energy density allows batteries to pack more energy in smaller spaces, making them lightweight and powerful at the same time. In addition, its ability to withstand high temperatures increases the safety and reliability of EVs.

Furthermore, cobalt increases the longevity of batteries and remains highly recyclable, promoting a more sustainable battery supply chain.

Despite its advantages, EV manufacturers are making efforts to reduce the cobalt content of their batteries for various reasons associated with its supply chain:

  • Cobalt is a by-product of nickel and copper mining, which makes it harder to obtain.
  • Cobalt is expensive, at US$33,000/tonne—more than twice the price of nickel.
  • The general public associates cobalt mining in the Congo with child labor, tough conditions, and corruption.

Although cobalt may be associated with unethical mining practices, it still remains essential to EV manufacturers—as demonstrated by Tesla’s agreement to buy 6,000 tonnes of cobalt annually from mining giant Glencore.

Combating Cobalt’s Ethical Concerns

EV manufacturers and miners have joined forces with organizations that are making efforts to alleviate the ethical issues associated with cobalt mining. These include:

  • Fair Cobalt Alliance
  • Responsible Minerals Initiative
  • Responsible Cobalt Initiative
  • Clean Cobalt Initiative

As these initiatives progress, we may see a future with ethically mined cobalt in EV batteries, including cobalt mined in more jurisdictions outside of the DRC.

For the time being, it’s interesting to see how lithium-cobalt batteries power up an EV.

Breaking Down a Lithium-Cobalt Battery

Lithium-Cobalt batteries have three key components:

  • The cathode is an electrode that carries a positive charge, and is made of lithium metal oxide combinations of cobalt, nickel, manganese, iron, and aluminum.
  • The anode is an electrode that carries a negative charge, usually made of graphite.
  • The electrolyte is a lithium salt in liquid or gel form, and allows the ions to flow from the cathode to the anode (and vice versa).

How it Works

When the battery is charged, lithium ions flow via the electrolyte from the cathode to the anode, where they are stored for usage. Simultaneously, electrons pass through an external circuit and are collected in the anode through a negative current collector.

When the battery is generating an electric current (i.e. discharging), the ions flow via the electrolyte from the anode to the cathode, and the electrons reverse direction along the external circuit, powering up the EV.

The composition of the cathode largely determines battery performance. For EV batteries, this is where the lithium-cobalt combination plays a crucial role.

The EV market could experience colossal growth over the next decade, but it faces several roadblocks. At present, EV charging infrastructure is expensive and not as convenient as the local gas station—and lithium-cobalt batteries could help overcome this obstacle.

Battery Storage: The Future of EV Charging Stations?

There are the two ways to charge an electric vehicle battery:

  1. Alternating Current (AC) chargers provide an alternating current, which periodically reverses direction.
  2. Direct Current (DC) fast chargers provide direct current that moves only in one direction.

But there’s a catch.

EV batteries can only store energy in the form of direct current. To charge an EV battery, the onboard charger must convert the alternating current from AC chargers into direct current, increasing charging times substantially.

Today, EV chargers are available in three different types:

Type of ChargerDescriptionMax energy drawn per hourCharge time
(60-kWH EV battery)
Alternating Current (AC) Level 1Charge via a 120-volt AC plug
1.4kW2,400 minutes
Alternating Current (AC) Level 2Charge via a 240-volt AC plug7.2kW500 minutes
Direct Current (DC)Charge EVs rapidly, but are more expensive to install and use50-350kWRange between 10-75 minutes

Meanwhile, several roadblocks still discourage EV buyers, from the lack of charging infrastructure to long charging times.

Stationary battery storage could be the solution.

Stationary Battery Storage: Solving the EV Charging Enigma

Charged batteries can provide EVs with direct current without drawing power from the grid during times of high demand. This can significantly reduce the demand charges of electricity, which account for a large portion of a charging station’s electricity bill.

The highest rate of electricity usage at a particular time determines the demand charges, separate from the cost of actual energy consumed. In other words, demand charges can be astronomical at times when multiple vehicles are charged via power from the grid.

Stationary battery storage systems could be charged from the grid at times of low demand, and used to provide direct current to vehicles during times of high demand.

As a result, this could dramatically reduce charging times as well as the cost of electricity.

Enabling Stationary Battery Storage

Developing stationary battery storage systems on a large scale is expensive. Lithium-cobalt batteries could mitigate these costs through their recyclability.

Unless damaged beyond repair, recycling companies can refurbish lithium-cobalt battery packs for a second life as stationary storage systems.

Re-using batteries promotes a circular economy and reduces waste, pollution, and costs. Not only would this improve charging infrastructure, but it would also create a more sustainable supply chain for EV batteries.

Lithium-Cobalt Batteries: Here to Stay

Despite efforts to reduce the cobalt contents in batteries, the lithium-cobalt combination remains the optimal technology for EV batteries.

Growth is imminent in the EV market, and lithium-cobalt batteries could take center stage in improving both vehicle performance, and charging infrastructure.

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