In EY's latest edition of top business risks facing the sector, 'License to Operate' risks leapt from 7th in 2018 to the top of the list. This risk relates to pressures from modernisation, global politics and rising nationalism - which mines meet through sustainable practices, better stakeholder relations, and shared value outcomes.
Such responses require innovation and adopting new technologies, which is why 'digital effectiveness' is second on EY's list. It mirrors the view held by water-technology provider, Xylem, said Chetan Mistry, Strategy and Marketing Manager for Xylem Africa:
"Mines have to do more with less if they want to survive. A significant amount of those choices related to sustainability, which includes environmental and regulatory concerns, but also efficiency and maintenance. When mines can reduce waste, reuse wastewater, and cost-effectively maintain infrastructure, they create sustainability for operations as well as the environment. Mining has an opportunity, through digital technologies, to attain all those benchmarks, specifically because these technologies hadn't existed before or weren't nearly as affordable as they are now."
To illustrate the point, Mistry offers several project examples from Xylem that help mines manage their water resources more sustainably:
Wastewater harvesting: Mining wastewater contains numerous minerals that can be extracted as an alternative revenue stream. South Africa is home to a Nickel Purification Plant that does exactly this: using a design that incorporates a variety of different pumps handling high temperatures and corrosive chemicals, the site extracts high-quality nickel from the wastewater stream of a nearby platinum mine, that otherwise could have become an environmental challenge.
Remote monitoring: Equipment that requires less operator oversight will improve efficiency and better overall use of resources. A copper mine in Peru tackled its dewatering challenges using surface-based mobile pumps to draw water from a depth of 365 metres. These pumps are integrated with the mine's SCADA system for remote start and stop, and staff can check the pumps' metrics and performance within seconds, even though they are located on different sites across the mine.
Innovative inspection: Inspection of infrastructure is vital for both efficiency and environmental compliance but finding a small leak in a lot of pipes was often pointlessly expensive and ineffective. But new innovations are changing this, such as the Smartball acoustic detector that rolls inside a pipe and can detect pinhole leaks. A Colorado-based mine used this system to inspect two parallel HDPE lines that move hazardous water across an ecology-sensitive area.
63% of mines are concerned about the growing cost of water and sustainable water management, according to a Xylem survey. But this is also an opportunity: modern technologies and best practices offer more ways for mines to manage water while saving money and meeting compliance. This golden triangle is helping mines become much more sustainable and in harmony with their surrounding communities and the environment.