Investing in what matters: Insights from COP28, part 1

By Jean-Denis Carrier and Karen Dingley | February 5, 2024

As the mining industry continues to grapple with decarbonization challenges driven by high energy demands, limited access to reliable and affordable renewables sources, and the necessity of sustainable and equitable upfront investment, Hatch experts Jean-Denis Carrier and Karen Dingley gathered with thousands of climate experts at COP28 to tackle these challenges head-on.

With the conference now over, the pursuit of a better world through positive change is well underway. In their panel discussion, our experts weigh in on the ways that the pursuit of efficient carbon capture and storage solutions further complicates the seemingly impossible task of solving the energy trilemma, prompting discussion surrounding how we can implement an energy source that is reliable, sustainable, and affordable in a socially responsible way.

Historically, the mining industry has operated without alternative mining technologies or the capital for high-investment. These energy-intensive processes, especially in smelting, made it nearly impossible to fathom a carbon-friendly way to extract. Further challenges persist in remote areas where the lack of infrastructure doesn’t readily support the use of renewable energy or decarbonization; the outdated processes from the industrial revolution, coupled with regulatory barriers and scarcity of resources, continue to hinder meaningful, socially responsible change.

Acknowledging these issues, much of the conversation at COP28 focused on industry needs for commercially and socially viable solutions with adequate funding, research, and technologies. With the right incentives and the right social pressure to move forward—and with governments laying framework to ensure that organizations and populations are aligned and properly incentivized—we will start to see results.

Investing in technology

When considering specific decarbonization or carbon capture technologies, consideration of the pricing on carbon and of the necessary implementing framework are critical. With existing green technologies still in the infancy of their development life cycle, there remains significant cost associated with first-of-its-kind technologies. In other words, technology costs more to implement when it’s new than when it’s widespread—consider the cost of installing solar power now compared to 20 years ago. It’s vital to keep this in mind when looking at investing in new technologies. The current cost of existing technologies won’t remain where it is; as they become more widespread, the upfront investment will go down.

We, as an industry, need incentives in place to help get the early costs of emerging technologies through the door. By establishing regulatory requirements, potential penalties, enhancing corporate social responsibility, working to attract environmentally conscious investors, reducing operational costs through energy efficiency, and securing a competitive edge in markets increasingly valuing sustainable practices, we set the stage for emerging technologies to succeed. When solutions such as carbon capture and storage methods, direct air capture, green and blue hydrogen production, electrification of mining equipment, and efficient energy storage are incentivized, there is more motivation toward upfront investment.

Hatch is involved across a broad range of mining commodities, with particular focus on technologies that aim to save water and the electrification of metallurgical smelting. A lot of our work is currently focused on carbon reaction processes, with significant capital investment being made in the electrification of smelters.

On the social side, many communities will only give social license to support these large CAPEX investments if they feel that these investments match their values, not only in terms of carbon emissions, but also long-term socio-economic growth, particularly in African regions. With this in mind, technologies will help in social acceptance of electrification in mining by addressing these concerns and showcasing benefits. Advanced simulation tools can visualize the impact of electrification, helping communities understand the benefits provided including reduced emissions and improved air quality. Transparent data platforms can share real-time information on energy sources, showcasing the shift to renewables. Additionally, community engagement through virtual reality experience or other interactive platforms can educate stakeholders about the positive social and environmental aspects of mining electrification.

The integration of battery powered vehicles, renewables, and digitalization in mining operations

Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are increasingly being employed in mining operations and for transporting personnel and hauling materials. Ultimately, BEVs help reduce emissions, noise, and operating costs compared to traditional diesel vehicles, and with advances in battery technology having increased the range and capabilities of these vehicles, they’re becoming viable options for the demanding conditions of mining environments.

Another shift the industry is seeing is solar panels and wind generation to create hydrogen which then gets stored and later used. Through electrolysis, the generated hydrogen can be used as a clean fuel source for powering equipment or vehicles. To enhance the efficiency of this green hydrogen production, batteries or other energy storage systems can be integrated. This allows for a more reliable and continuous supply of clean energy when solar or wind generation is intermittent.

Automation and digitalization are also enhancing efficiency, safety, and productivity. Automated machinery, such as autonomous trucks and drilling systems, reduces the need for human intervention in hazardous environments. Digitization allows for real-time monitoring of equipment, optimizing maintenance and minimizing downtime. It also enables data-driven decision-making, improving overall performance and resource management. Ultimately, it’s helping us make the most out of the energy we have available without causing more strain.

The industry is also starting to explore storing carbon in tailings in an approach that involves capturing carbon dioxide emissions and injecting them into tailings, promoting mineral carbonation. This process transforms CO2 into stable minerals, potentially reducing the environmental impact of tailings while storing carbon in a secure form. And perhaps the newest and most innovative up and coming technology is using biotechnology for processes that typically used a lot of energy.

What’s next?

Developing countries don’t typically have the infrastructure or skillset to support new technologies. This presents a challenge to the rest of the world to bring new technologies to areas without an existing foundation to support them. To do this, we need to put together best practices and acknowledge the upfront investment of new technology in mining—an industry accustomed to doing things the same way since its inception.

Creating new facilities and ramping up existing facilities will take time, and in the developed world we must focus on a solid operational readiness and design plans. Contact us to find out how Hatch is investing in specific technologies and electrification and leading the way toward a greener, brighter future.