Aussie miners told how to pivot and profit

·3-min read

Australia stands to win from a once-in-a-generation shift in demand to minerals needed to power a cleaner world, but miners are being urged to cut emissions in their own patch.

"The mining sector in Western Australia is going to have to play a critical role in global efforts to decarbonise," WA Mining Minister Bill Johnston told an industry conference on Monday.

"We can see that with demand for battery and critical minerals, particularly as we roll out clean energy technologies," he said, opening the two-day conference in Perth.

Moving materials at mine sites and getting them to customers is a major contributor to carbon emissions in mining, and it needs to be solved, he said.

The electrification of trucks, trains and equipment and greater use of automation and robotics is starting to be integrated into transport, along with trials of green hydrogen as an alternative fuel.

The minister said WA mines, including Rio Tinto at Gudai-Darri and Gold Fields at Agnew, are leading the way by installing new power systems at remote operations.

He also released a guide for on-site renewable energy to make it easier and cheaper for mine managers to secure contracts with independent power producers.

Recent advances in technology have made low-emissions mining commercially viable, according to a report released by conference host the Minerals Research Institute of Western Australia (MRIWA).

The institute says miners can profit from the change while contributing to cutting national greenhouse gas emissions.

Australia's green bank is already backing early movers in more sustainable mining, including Pilbara Minerals' Pilgangoora Project and technology start-up Novalith.

Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) spokesman Rob Wilson said the world needs a different mix of minerals and metals to power the low-emissions economies of the future, and Australia has a large share.

Longer-term gains for critical minerals are tipped to offset the headwinds from declining demand for high-emitting fossil fuels.

Iron ore, bauxite, lead, chromium and manganese demand will grow, although increased recycling rates will moderate demand for raw materials.

Nickel, cobalt, lithium and rare earths are expected to experience a surge in demand as the electrification of transport and battery storage accelerates.

Copper growth will reflect demand for wind turbines, solar panels, transport and battery storage.

But miners are warned they could become less competitive if they fail to bring on new technology, with more sustainably sourced minerals set to attract a premium on world markets.

Australia is among the top producers of the world's key mineral commodities, with the mining sector accounting for almost 10 per cent of national carbon emissions.

The sector's lack of access to grid electricity at remote operations and reliance on diesel and gas have made it a challenge to cut emissions.

The new report includes practical advice on how to write and roll out decarbonisation plans, measure baseline energy and emissions profiles, and assess renewable technologies suitable for different mines.

For example, battery firm 3ME Technology is helping miners replace diesel engines with battery systems and Ark Energy in Queensland is developing electric trucks capable of transporting ore - both backed by CEFC.

MRIWA chief executive Nicole Roocke urged the mining industry to work together to examine new methods for mining and mineral processing.

"The task is large but not impossible," she said.