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Circular economy and responsible raw materials

by | Jun 11, 2021 | News | 0 comments

The Responsible Raw Materials conference 2021, held online from 10 – 14 May with a theme of the ‘ESG (environment, social and governance) Toolbox’ was remarkable in attracting some 62 presentations over the five days of the conference. Don’t worry if you missed it! The talks are all archived online on the responsible raw materials website.

I gave a talk on behalf of Met4Tech and discussed ‘Integrating primary raw materials into Circular Economy research’.

Met4Tech is distinctive amongst the five Centres in the NICER initiative in that it is the only one that deals with extraction of primary raw materials. For our topic of technology metals, mining is the essential first step and one that needs to increase rapidly to produce materials needed to manufacture the low carbon technologies that will help combat climate change. I think sometimes people forget when they talk about renewable energy that not a single watt of energy can be generated without a device to harness the natural power and turn it into a useable form. Likewise, electric vehicles are more materials intensive than petrol or diesel models. Moving out of an age of fossil fuels means moving into an age of materials. Anyway, back to the conference, I discussed how the elegant circular economy definition from the Ellen McArthur Foundation can be applied to mining. This states that a Circular economy approach is based on:

  • Designing out waste and pollution
  • Keeping products and materials in use
  • Regenerating natural systems

I showed that circular economy in mining can be interpreted more widely that (just) re-use of waste or recycling. Designing out waste and pollution is something that geologists and engineers are doing all the time when they think about process mineralogy, geometallurgy, and minerals processing. Reducing the impacts of the first step of production is very much in line with circular economy principles. Then, metals are intrinsically sustainable materials and can certainly be kept in use as products and materials for long periods – for ever in fact, if we look after them properly. It will be interesting to see how much mining companies as raw material providers become long term owners and providers to ensure good stewardship of the metals that they have produced. For regenerating natural systems, I showed a picture of the rewilding scheme at B2Gold in Namibia – not at all what Ellen McArthur had in mind when choosing this phrase I am sure, but nevertheless in terms of the ESG tool box, mining certainly considers biodiversity impacts and regeneration.

You can watch / listen to my talk below.

Thank you very much and well done’ to the organisers, Satarla (Sarah Gordon and Rose Clarke) for an excellent conference and creating an amazing resource of online recorded talks. 

Frances Wall, PI Met4Tech
Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter

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