The Zero Emission Copper Mine of the Future report by the University of Sydney’s Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering sets out how Australian copper mining can become emission free over the next 30 years through the use of emerging technologies.

                                              Ashley Brinson

This ‘world first’ roadmap, commissioned by the International Copper Association Australia (ICAA), identifies five key target areas for technological innovation to reduce and ultimately eliminate mining emissions: exploration, movement of materials, ventilation, processing, and water use.

The range of technologies copper supports is vast: autonomous drones and robot machinery, next generation sensors, Mixed Reality (immersive technology), wearable tech, in-situ ore recovery, novel leaching processes and on demand ventilation are just some examples.

Achieving cutting edge innovation will also depend on collaboration across five strategic levers: policy and programs, industry networks, capital enablers, future knowledge and an open mindset.

“A zero-emission copper mine of the future will be significantly different from the current copper mining system, and will require fundamental changes in how the mine sources, consumes and abates energy,” says Ashley Brinson, director of the Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering.

“To achieve a zero-emissions future, ’moonshot’ type thinking is needed and will require a joint commitment from research bodies, the public and private sectors,” he adds.

The resources sector, and copper mining in particular, faces big challenges – falling ore quality, fewer new deposits and much tougher licence to operate rules,” John Fennell, ICAA CEO, says. “But we need to do things differently going forward.”

Fennell says this is the first of three blueprints or horizon reports over three years, designed to clarify the vision, establish viable technologies, create an innovation culture, and bring the industry together.

Copper is widely used in green innovation, used by industries seeking to reduce their environmental impact.

“Hybrid and electric vehicles rely on copper, as do renewable energy sources such as solar photovoltaic, wind farms, hydroelectricity and associated grid infrastructure. Constructing a renewable energy system demands significantly more copper than traditional systems,” says Brinson.

“Copper plays an important role in the transition of society to a zero-carbon future.”

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