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Mining

Graphene: The Game-Changing Material of the Future

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Technology is only as good as the materials it is made from.

Much of the modern information era would not be possible without silicon and Moore’s Law, and electric cars would be much less viable without recent advances in the material science behind lithium-ion batteries.

That’s why graphene, a two-dimensional supermaterial made from carbon, is so exciting. It’s harder than diamonds, 300x stronger than steel, flexible, transparent, and a better conductor than copper (by about 1,000x).

If it lives up to its potential, graphene could revolutionize everything from computers to energy storage.

Graphene: Is It the Next Wonder Material?

The following infographic comes to us from 911Metallurgist, and it breaks down the incredible properties and potential applications of graphene.

Graphene: The Game-Changing Material of the Future

While the properties and applications of graphene are extremely enticing, there has one big traditional challenge with graphene: the cost of getting it.

The Ever-Changing Graphene Price

As you can imagine, synthesizing a material that is one atom thick is a process that has some major limitations. Since a sheet of graphene 1 mm thick (1/32 of an inch) requires three million layers of atoms, graphene has been quite cost-prohibitive to produce in large amounts.

Back in 2013, Nature reported that one micrometer-sized flake of graphene costed more than $1,000, which made graphene one of the most expensive materials on Earth. However, there has been quite some progress in this field since then, as scientists search for the “Holy Grail” in scaling graphene production processes.

By the end of 2015, Deloitte estimated that the market price per gram was close to $100. And today, graphene can now be ordered straight from a supplier like Graphenea, where multiple products are offered online ranging from graphene oxide (water dispersion) to monolayer graphene on silicon wafers.

One producer, NanoXplore, even estimates that graphene is now down to a cost of $0.10 per gram for good quality graphene, though this excludes graphene created through a CVD process (recognized as the highest level of quality available for bulk graphene).

The following graphic from Nature (2014) shows some methods for graphene production – though it should be noted that this is a quickly-changing discipline.

Graphene Production

As the price of graphene trends down at an impressive rate, its applications will continue to grow. However, for graphene to be a true game-changer, it will have to be integrated into the supply chains of manufacturers, which will still take multiple years to accomplish.

Once graphene has “real world” applications, we’ll be able to see what can be made possible on a grander scale.

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Batteries

Visualizing Copper’s Role in the Transition to Clean Energy

A clean energy transition is underway as wind, solar, and batteries take center stage. Here’s how copper plays the critical role in these technologies.

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A future powered by renewables is not in the distant horizon, but rather in its early hours.

This new dawn comes from a global awareness of the environmental impacts of the current energy mix, which relies heavily on fossil fuels and their associated greenhouse gas emissions.

Technologies such as wind, solar, and batteries offer renewable and clean alternatives and are leading the way for the transition to clean energy. However, as with every energy transition, there are not only new technologies, but also new material demands.

Copper: A Key Piece of the Puzzle

This energy transition will be mineral intensive and it will require metals such as nickel, lithium, and cobalt. However, one metal stands out as being particularly important, and that is copper.

Today’s infographic comes to us from the Copper Development Association and outlines the special role of copper in renewable power generation, energy storage, and electric vehicles.

Copper and the Clean Energy Transition

Why Copper?

The red metal has four key properties that make it ideal for the clean energy transition.

  1. Conductivity
  2. Ductility
  3. Efficiency
  4. Recyclability

It is these properties that make copper the critical material for wind and solar technology, energy storage, and electric vehicles.

It’s also why, according to ThinkCopper, the generation of electricity from solar and wind uses four to six times more copper than fossil fuel sources.

Copper in Wind

A three-megawatt wind turbine can contain up to 4.7 tons of copper with 53% of that demand coming from the cable and wiring, 24% from the turbine/power generation components, 4% from transformers, and 19% from turbine transformers.

The use of copper significantly increases when going offshore. That’s because onshore wind farms use approximately 7,766 lbs of copper per MW, while an offshore wind installation uses 21,068 lbs of copper per MW.

It is the cabling of the offshore wind farms to connect them to each other and to deliver the power that accounts for the bulk of the copper usage.

Copper in Solar

Solar power systems can contain approximately 5.5 tons of copper per MW. Copper is in the heat exchangers of solar thermal units as well as in the wiring and cabling that transmits the electricity in photovoltaic solar cells.

Navigant Research projects that 262 GW of new solar installations between 2018 and 2027 in North America will require 1.9 billion lbs of copper.

Copper in Energy Storage

There are many ways to store energy, but every method uses copper. For example, a lithium ion battery contains 440 lbs of copper per MW and a flow battery 540 lbs of copper per MW.

Copper wiring and cabling connects renewable power generation with energy storage, while the copper in the switches of transformers help to deliver power at the right voltage.

Across the United States, a total of 5,752 MW of energy capacity has been announced and commissioned.

Copper in Electric Vehicles

Copper is at the heart of the electric vehicle (EV). This is because EVs rely on copper for the motor coil that drives the engine.

The more electric the car, the more copper it needs; a car powered by an internal combustion engine contains roughly 48 lbs, a hybrid needs 88 lbs, and a battery electric vehicle uses 184 lbs.

Additionally, the cabling for charging stations of electric vehicles will be another source of copper demand.

The Copper Future

Advances in technologies create new material demands.

Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that the transition to renewables is going to create demand for many minerals – and copper is going to be a critical mineral for the new era of energy.

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Economy

Visualizing the Potential of Smart Mining

Smart mining technology is helping to enhance safety, increase production, and optimize resources by analyzing large swaths of real-time data.

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Visualizing the Potential of Smart Mining

View the full-size version of the infographic by clicking here

Mining has traditionally been depicted with pack mules, pickaxes, and rugged prospectors.

However, it may surprise you to learn that today’s mining industry is precisely the opposite in almost every respect. It’s high-tech, efficient, and safe.

This is partially because modern mining companies are deploying the latest in sensor and cloud technology. These connected mines are improving the extraction process and workers’ safety while also boosting productivity.

Today’s infographic comes to us from Natural Resources Canada and discusses how this sensor and cloud technology can be integrated into the extractive process.

What is Smart Mining?

A connected mine uses data from sensor technology to effectively manage underground and pit mining operations.

“Any mining operation today will have in the thousands or hundreds of thousands of sensors capturing in real time a vast swath of data.”

– Mukani Moyo, McKinsey Senior Expert (Source)

From a single application on a mobile device, supervisors at mine sites can now receive alerts via SMS, email or in-app notifications. This helps them react to critical problems in real-time and maximize productivity.

In addition, advanced data analytics can be applied to the raw data to create insights, visualizations, and recommendations. This information is delivered to mine managers and employees in real-time on their mobile devices.

Case Study: Smart Solutions in Practice

Dundee Precious Metals was one of the first companies to bring wireless networks into an underground mine. The company used RFID and Wi-Fi to monitor the location of equipment and people. The networks also allowed personnel to stay connected to the surface.

Once the networks were installed, communication was reliable and instantaneous – even almost 2,000 feet underground at the bottom of the mine. Workers could bring laptops and smartphones into the mine to stay connected to personnel and software on the surface.

With an RFID chip on every vehicle, machine, and person, managers can see the location of everyone and everything in the mine. This helps prevent accidents and breakdowns, and streamlines operations in real-time.

There are also environmental and cost-saving benefits. Using location data, an automated ventilation system can respond and minimize energy consumption.

Fans turn on and off as miners enter or leave an area. In addition, fan speeds adjust when machines or vehicles are running nearby to ensure that emissions are properly vented. This could drastically reduce a mine’s energy requirements.

Changing the Nature of Work: Remote Working

These smart mining solutions are reducing the risks miners face and creating new opportunities for a tech-savvy generation.

Remote mine locations that revolve around shift work can place stress on workers and their families. With a connected infrastructure, mine employees and managers can monitor operations at a distant office.

There will always be a need for workers on site, but connected technology can create some town-based career opportunities and help stabilize families.

A Sustainable Future for Mining

This is just the beginning.

Over time, data from sensor technology and cloud software, will reveal insights that could help develop sustainable mining operations.

By minimizing their negative impacts, mining companies will be able to responsibly deliver the materials the modern world needs.

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