Mining critical to achieving net zero goals, advancing renewable energy tech – UNSW expert

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The extraction of critical minerals is crucial to ensuring that the development of renewable energy technologies can keep up with rising global demand and contribute to the goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, according to Professor Ismet Canbulat, head of the School of Minerals and Energy Resources Engineering at UNSW Sydney.

In a news release, Prof Canbulat said that his statement is based on the amount of key minerals that must be mined from the ground for use in manufacturing items such as solar panels, electric vehicle batteries, and wind turbine magnets.

The UNSW professor, who was in discussion as part of the university‘s ‘Engineering the Future’ podcast series, said that failure to mine those minerals will not only delay the development of such renewable energy technologies but will also make them more expensive and less likely to be widely adopted.

“As soon as you talk to public about mining, first thing that comes to their mind is coal mining. But they don’t realise the fact that mining is also necessary for renewable energy technologies,” he said.

He added, “If we can’t produce those critical minerals it will be a bottleneck for the net carbon zero future. And if they become expensive, that means the energy will be very, very expensive as well.”

According to the professor, as a result of this strategy, many additional mines will be opened in Australia and other countries in order to provide the market with those critical minerals.

“There will be a lot of challenges, particularly around increased production. Increased production means we will have to do more selective mining with much less waste and then much faster and much more productive than what we have right now,” he noted. 

Joining Prof Canbulat on the ‘Engineering the Future of Mining’ podcast episode was Rae O’Brien, executive general manager of mining excellence at Centennial Energy Company.

She believes that as people become more aware of how many critical minerals must be removed from the earth in order to fulfil the enormous rise in demand for renewable energy technologies, the public’s opinion of mining is beginning to change.

“This transition to a low carbon or a net zero carbon economy is driving a huge demand for electrification minerals,” O’Brien said.

She added, “I accept there’s not a lot of real knowledge from the general public. But if it’s not grown, it’s mined pretty much. Everything you use every day comes from mining in some way.”

Meanwhile, Prof Canbulat acknowledges that mining must become more environmentally friendly over the next two decades, but he hopes that people will begin to recognise the industry’s importance to a brighter energy future.

“What we need to change is going (more) into environmentally friendly, sustainable mining practises, and looking after the communities. That will basically bring people into believing that yes, we need mining,” he explained. 

“I think the public’s perception towards mining is changing. And whichever way we look at, the mining industry will be required to support the renewable industries,” the professor concluded.