Cleantech Solutions to Help Canada's Mining Sector Grow in a Net-Zero Economy

Canada ranks among the top five producers of aluminum, cobalt, diamonds, fluorspar, gemstones, gold, indium, niobium, palladium, platinum, tellurium, and titanium concentrate, and uranium.

FREMONT, CA: The mining industry is one of Canada's most important economic sectors, contributing 5 percent of nominal GDP and employing 692,000 people in 115 towns, as recorded in 2020. According to the Mining Association of Canada, the industry employs about 16,500 Indigenous workers, making it the largest private sector employer of Indigenous people. As the global economy shifts toward a net-zero future, Canada's mineral riches and ability to manufacture electric vehicles (EVs) from start to finish are anticipated to provide ideal conditions for the mining industry. Consequently, there is a significant push to embrace EVs in Canada and among key trading partners such as the United States and the European Union, where EV sales are predicted to climb from 4 percent and 14 percent in 2021 to 27 percent and 42 percent, respectively, by 2030.

Incorporating environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles as part of Canada's Paris Agreement commitments poses significant problems for the mining industry. According to a recent PwC research, Canadian businesses will need to decarbonize by integrating sustainable energy, ESG reporting, and carbon offsetting into their operations to unlock the sector's entire value. This will enable them to handle forthcoming regulatory changes successfully. Similarly, the ability to extract essential metals and minerals more environmentally friendly manner may give them a competitive advantage in the global battery supply chain. In a series of interviews on how Canada's mining sector can reach net-zero goals by 2050, leading experts emphasize that electrifying mining equipment and leveraging new technologies such as microbial and cosmic-ray muography solutions can assist the industry in reducing emissions and achieving sustainable growth.

Deployment of EVs in mining: a win-win situation for the industry

According to a recent survey by Ernst & Young (EY), Canadian mining companies are considering electrifying their operations to save costs, increase their operating licenses, and contribute to a more sustainable industry. The International Energy Agency (IEA) and EY anticipate that by 2040, renewables will account for 60 percent of the mining sector's capacity expansions.

Despite the benefits, operating electric vehicles in mines can be difficult due to their remote locations and lack of charging infrastructure. Alongside, Canada's mines have utilized infrastructure since the 20th century. Consequently, the sector confronts short- to medium-term structural obstacles when thoroughly implementing electrification and EVs, such as high initial capital expenditures and essential modifications, such as reskilling personnel and integrating digital solutions across the extraction and transportation stages.

Cosmic-ray muography can cut exploration expenses and energy use

As the majority of near-surface mineral reserves have already been discovered, it will be necessary for Canadian mining corporations to increase exploration efforts and source mineral deposits more efficiently to meet global demand. The IEA predicts that the demand for raw materials might increase six-fold by 2040 due to countries' determined efforts to achieve Paris Agreement goals and reach net-zero aims by 2050. This means that corporations will need to search further underground and conduct more exploration off-site. According to Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration, the widespread adoption of technological solutions could enable mining corporations to scale exploration and search more efficiently than conventional approaches. According to research from the University of Glasgow, rapid advancements in cosmic-ray muography, which provides x-ray-like images of underground density anomalies, can reduce unnecessary, invasive, and expensive drilling, thereby reducing energy and water consumption and carbon emissions during mining exploration.

Globally, there is a rising awareness that a clean energy transition will necessitate governments to secure crucial mineral supply chains and process these minerals more efficiently than their competitors to transition away from old energy sources. To capitalize on the expanding international demand for critical minerals, the federal government of Canada revealed intentions to adopt the nation's first Critical Minerals Strategy (CMS) in the 2022 budget. As part of the Budget and the CMS, CA$79.2 million has been allotted to developing publicly accessible, integrated data sets to inform vital mining exploration and development. In addition, the federal government has established a new 30 percent Critical Mineral Exploration Tax Credit for certain Canadian mineral exploration expenses.