Thursday, September 21 2023 Sign In   |    Register

News Quick Search



Front Page
Power News
Today's News
Yesterday's News
Week of Sep 18
Week of Sep 11
Week of Sep 04
Week of Aug 28
Week of Aug 21
By Topic
By News Partner
Gas News
News Customization


Pro Plus(+)

Add on products to your professional subscription.
  • Energy Archive News

    Home > News > Power News > News Article

    Share by Email E-mail Printer Friendly Print

    Renewables won’t be truly sustainable without greener mining practices

    May 24, 2023 - Jane Marsh


      Photo: Pixabay/xusenru

      Most people sing the praises of renewable energy and see it as a perfect alternative to coal, oil and gas. While fossil fuels do contribute strongly to climate change, solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicle (EV) batteries also cause environmental damage.

      There is no way around it: these forms of technology all contain valuable metals miners must extract from the ground. Mining will always pose an environmental impact, but some techniques make it less damaging.

      One problem lies in outsourcing mining to other countries, a practice that poses two main problems. The first is the metal has to travel a vast distance to reach its destination. Manufacturers often ship it to one country for refinement into battery-grade metal, another country to put it into a battery and another for installation in an EV.

      The result is the metals often travel over 50,000 nautical miles by the time they reach a battery cell factory. Because cargo ships run on fossil fuels, shipping metal around the globe is wasteful and contributes to climate change. Local mining and manufacturing reduce emissions.

      The second issue is an ethical quandary. The proposal to build mines near people’s homes often generates an outcry — nobody wants the noise, air pollution and environmental degradation posed by having a mine in their own backyard. But how is it any better to build the mine overseas?

      Mining in foreign countries allows people to put the issue out of sight and mind. It creates a mental disconnect where people simultaneously denounce child labor and clamor for a new iPhone, with the old one languishing in a drawer.

      Outsourcing also allows mining companies to skirt laws regulating working hours, slavery and employability age. Local mining reduces human rights violations and improves transparency.

      Rehabilitating mining sites

      One of the strongest arguments against mining is it degrades the environment. At abandoned mining sites, tailings — mining residue — leach toxins into the surrounding land and water. The mineral soils exposed to the air are effectively sterile, containing no organic matter or nutrients plants need to regrow. Unstable ground contributes to landslides and sinkholes.

      But it is possible to restore abandoned mines. In the United States, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 funds the cleanup of mine areas. Some organizations specializing in mine reclamation restore topsoils and plant trees in abandoned mines. By promoting and enforcing reclamation efforts, governments can make mining more sustainable.

      Another way to reduce the impacts of mining is to use electric mining equipment. According to a McKinsey report, a fully electric mine using renewable energy sources could lower its carbon emissions by 60% to 80%. Of course, it is ideal if miners use electric equipment to produce the EV batteries in the first place, but the process has to start somewhere.

      Reusing mining waste

      Rather than leaving tailings and rocks behind at a mine site, manufacturers can use them for various processes. This could include road construction materials, bricks, paint extenders, concrete and glass. Treated mine water is helpful for dust suppression, industrial use, irrigation and as a coolant. Some processes even allow manufacturers to extract minerals and metals from mine waste.

      Particular mining techniques are devastating to the environment and surrounding communities. Mountaintop removal kills at least 1,200 people in Appalachia annually, and contributes to congenital disabilities and cancer. It also buries and pollutes freshwater streams.

      In contrast, in-situ leaching is one of the least environmentally damaging forms of mining. Although only possible when the ore is below the water table, it should be the technique of choice in areas with a low risk of water contamination.

      Mining in more resilient areas

      No area on Earth is entirely devoid of life. Still, some areas have less ecological impact than others. Rainforests are one of the worst places to mine due to their high biodiversity and ability to act as a carbon sink. The Amazon Rainforest is home to millions of unique species, with many found nowhere else.

      In contrast, mining in the desert has a lower — although still not zero — impact on the surrounding ecosystem. It is important to remember extracting oil and gas also damages the environment, so no resource extraction method leaves the planet unscathed. There is always a tradeoff between immediate and long-term impact.

      The demand for mining continues to grow alongside the desire for more renewable energy. Solar panels and electric car batteries cannot exist without mining, so industry leaders are looking for ways to make the process more sustainable.

      By switching to electric mining equipment, reducing metal shipping and using more sustainable mining techniques, mining companies can reduce their environmental impact while meeting the world’s growing need for metal.


    Other Articles - Utility Business / General


       Home  -  Feedback  -  Contact Us  -  Safe Sender  -  About Energy Central   
    Copyright © 1996-2023 by CyberTech, Inc. All rights reserved.
    Energy Central® and Energy Central Professional® are registered trademarks of CyberTech, Incorporated. Data and information is provided for informational purposes only, and is not intended for trading purposes. CyberTech does not warrant that the information or services of Energy Central will meet any specific requirements; nor will it be error free or uninterrupted; nor shall CyberTech be liable for any indirect, incidental or consequential damages (including lost data, information or profits) sustained or incurred in connection with the use of, operation of, or inability to use Energy Central. Other terms of use may apply. Membership information is confidential and subject to our privacy agreement.