ESCO Engages Blog

Mining and Sustainability: Frenemies in the Fight for the Net-Zero Economy

20 February 2023

By Chris Carpenter – Vice President, Innovation & Technology, Weir ESCO

Published in partnership with the Portland Business Journal

I was recently reminded that my enthusiastic perspective on the future of the mining industry is not universal. To some, mining remains a stodgy, dirty, low-tech industry, and a formidable impediment to the net-zero economy.

I disagree but, more importantly, all evidence is to the contrary. As someone who has dedicated their career to developing new technologies and products for the mining and infrastructure markets, I can say that the global mining industry is undergoing an unparalleled transformation. And, while there is still much work to be done, I think it is appropriate to dispel some old myths.

Myth: Mining is an enemy of sustainability.

In the early 2000s, global climate change leaders threw down the gauntlet to worldwide industry: reduce your carbon emissions to lower global warming to no more than 1.5°C by 2030. Figure out how to use less energy and create cleaner forms of energy as a principle of your business. It was and is an aggressive goal for many sectors, including mining which currently accounts for 6% of the world’s energy demand and 22% of global industrial emissions.

Yes, it is a big lift. But even bigger is the reality that sustainability is the future of mining—and mining is the path to a net-zero economy.

Myth: Renewable energy will replace mining.

Renewable energy sources like wind- and solar-power generation have an important role in reducing greenhouse gases, but they cannot drive the decarbonization of the economy without raw materials.

Just as electric-vehicle batteries require copper, nickel and lithium, other forms of clean energy still require electrification metals and their by-products to bring them to life. The transition to a low-carbon economy will require vast quantities of these and other raw materials that can only be obtained through mining.

Myth: Mining is an old-tech industry.

If the pace of innovation in the mining industry was once viewed as plodding, that paradigm has shifted. Due to the aggressive environmental commitments that miners have signed up for, the pace of innovation has gone supersonic.

New digital tools using artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies are allowing miners to better understand the quality and capacity of mineral deposits before they begin digging. Advances in metallurgy are creating stronger, more wear-resistant metals to expand the life expectancy of mining equipment, such that it uses less energy and creates less waste. The key to these advancements is the ability to collect and analyze critical data. The appetite for the data science is large and driving unprecedented global innovation within the mining industry.

To move more quickly, some industry stalwarts are collaborating with innovation hubs at universities other educational institutions. One example is Motion Metrics, a leading mining technology business specializing in AI and machine vision applications, which was born in a business incubator at the University of British Columbia. Weir acquired the company in 2021.

Myth: Career opportunities in mining are shrinking.

While it is true that the current mining workforce is graying overall, the global emphasis on achieving greater sustainability in the industry is creating opportunities for the next generation of engineers, data scientists and metallurgists with a passion for positive change.

At Weir ESCO, we are aggressively changing our product offering to help our customers solve their most challenging problems, which are now geared toward sustainability and offsetting fossil fuels. We require the best talent to achieve this—a diverse and engaged workforce that sees things differently.

What it means to be a miner is changing. Helping facilitate that change is the exciting opportunity ahead.

The Weir Group is a leading engineering company with 11,000 employees worldwide. Its ESCO division employs 400 Oregon workers who design, manufacture and service mining and infrastructure equipment. ESCO shares an unrelenting focus on product innovation to create reliable, long-lasting wear parts and solutions developed from superior metallurgy and manufacturing.

As vice president, innovation & technology, for Weir’s ESCO division, Chris Carpenter is responsible for developing disruptive technology that creates new and expanded opportunities for the company. More than half of his career has been dedicated to the development of new technology and products for the mining and infrastructure markets.

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