Image credits: Alexandre Debiève

Technology as a Key Differentiator for ESG Success

By Karin Dilge | Thu, 08/11/2022 - 16:42

The mining industry has gone through significant changes during its history, mainly propelled by new technologies that emerged to shift the operations of thousands of companies. To respond to pressure from governments, investors and NGOs alike, the mining sector is increasingly addressing ESG issues as a priority matter. As objectives to reduce carbon emissions and increase workers’ safety become clear, technology will further cement the adoption of ESG factors in the mining industry, agreed experts.

“The environment has changed much in recent years toward an ESG-oriented economy. The companies with the best ESG ratings are the most favored by investors and public opinion. Technology leads us to have more efficient processes. Much progress has been made, but there is still much more to do to understand the true impact on the environment and how to reduce it,” said Hector Garcés, Partner ESG Digital, ERM.

Technological advances have allowed mining operations to grow thus increasing its environmental impact, but they also have the power to counter these negative effects. Being able to measure this impact is fundamental, according to Matt Gallimore, Senior Manager Sustainability, MetsoOutotec. Once companies have a clear outline of their environmental footprint, tech can become an ally to work on an effective way to reduce this impact. “For decades, this industry has worked without knowing what will happen along the way. Tech allows to change this scenario in every way, from operations to the very impact that mining activities may have,” said Fernando Gómez, Account Manager North America and Mexico, Minesense.

“One mining company is using blockchain to enable traceability, which has led to partnerships for ethically sourced EV battery raw materials. Another global mining firm is using blockchain to provide sustainability labelling for aluminum,” say partners of Bain&Company.

As the industry begins to integrate more tech, digital twins and machine learning are widely requested, Gallimore said. With digital twins, companies can make a virtual representation of a real-world physical system, allowing to evaluate risks before carrying out an operation. Meanwhile, machine learning focuses on the use of algorithms to gradually improve the accuracy of machines. “Innovation in risk management can help mitigate the negative impact of a volatile operational environment and keep our operations running,” said Chafika Eddine, Chief Sustainability Officer, Orla Mining.

The mining industry is also known to be one of the most dangerous professions, so the need for improved security and training is significant. Factors such as poor air quality, low visibility, chemical hazards and structural dangers pose a risk to workers and, consequently, to the company. Applying Virtual Reality (VR) technology is proving to help mitigate accidents, providing a new avenue to build a safer industry, experts agree. 

Virtual training allows managers and mine operators to work in a safer and more effective environment. Training through VR lets the teams practice their abilities prior to entering the mine. They can inspect every part of the site and even interact with the different surrounding virtual objects. Users have greater learning retention and a better idea of how to operate as a result.

Experts have noted drones are among the most exciting technologies that can be implemented in mining to survey areas that could be dangerous for a human worker. For example, if there is a tunnel collapse, drones can help locate trapped workers without the need to put someone else in danger, informs Geospatial World.

“Miners can create the layout of a mine by using robots that can walk or fly inside tunnels, while the operator remains outside and therefore not exposed to the risks of unfamiliar terrain. In addition, miners can know how many trucks are coming in and out of a mine site as they can monitor them by satellite. We use technology to examine the outside and inside of a mine, making faster calculations of ore volumes to move product more efficiently,” said Armando Guevara, CEO, Gtt NetCorp, in an interview with MBN.

Another example of successful technology implementations is in open-pit mines, where autonomous haul trucks drive themselves between loading and dumping areas. Companies applying these technologies have seen an increase in productivity and are looking to expand those fleets.

“In Mexico, technology is crucial to unlocking the country’s mining value,” said Guevara. A responsible operation permeates everything at an ESG level, adds Diego Torroella, Director General, Takraf. A growing number of companies are investing more in development to reduce carbon emissions and increase safety and technology can be an enabler. “It is a matter of conviction. For instance, if we manufacture equipment that helps with water purification and recovery for the operation, it helps the mine reduce costs and provides benefits to the community. Our main focus is safety,” said Torroella.

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
EY, MBN, Bain&Company
Photo by:   Alexandre Debiève
Karin Dilge Karin Dilge Journalist and Industry Analyst