Engineering Seminar Series 3_2010: What on Earth is 'Peak Minerals': Understanding the Environmental Sustainability of Mining

Dr Gavin Mudd, Lecturer, Dept of Civil Engineering, Monash University, Clayton campus, Australia

Date: 2010-03-15
Time: 13:00 to 14:00
Venue: 9-3-04


The concept of "sustainable mining" is easy to mistake as a paradox, an oxymoron - an impossibility against the laws of nature. Yet in reality mineral production is exponentially greater today than ever in history - a paradox indeed. What is the evidence behind this mystery ? How can large mining companies truly ascribe themselves as sustainability ? At the heart of the modern mining industry are several key strategic challenges: declining ore grades, increasing mine wastes, increasing energy and carbon intensity and growing water resource impacts. Of course, many of these also relate very closely to economic risks and social issues. This seminar will review wide ranging data on the long-term history of the Australian mining industry, providing a unique insight into the role of technology in solving key problems such as ore processing, declining grades, mine wastes and so on. Ultimately, there are perhaps more analogies between peak oil and the emerging basis for 'peak minerals' than has historically been recognised. As various environmental (and social) costs gradually become internalised (especially carbon pollution costs), these will contribute to potentially significant constraints on the future of the minerals industry globally - thereby creating 'peak minerals'. As the old saying goes - "The Stone Age did not end for the lack of stones", and thus the future of the minerals industry remains open to various futures but will clearly be more environmentally than resource constrained. The sustainability of mining is therefore critical to understand with respect to ongoing global development, human welfare and environmental sustainability. May we live in interesting times indeed.

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