Is It Possible For The Iron Ore Mining Industry To Go Green?

With the passage of time, the world is finally understanding and taking climate change seriously. It is certain that the mining industry leaves a significant carbon footprint. According to The World Counts, the mining of iron core produces a large amount of air pollution in the form of nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide from diesel generators, trucks, and other mining equipment.

The Iron Ore Mining Industry To Go Green

Mining operations can also lead to water pollution since the acid that comes from mines can sometimes flow directly to nearby bodies of water. On a positive note, many mining companies are now trying to make the big shift to green energy.

Fortescue Metals Group is one of the world’s largest iron ore producers. They have recently announced a 6 billion USD plan to switch to renewable energy by 2030. The company aims to eliminate fossil fuel usage in mining operations and to achieve net zero emissions by 2030.

“Fortescue Metals group has proven you have an alternative and it is a good commercial, solid alternative…You can make money and you can stop cooking our planet. I am saying to every heavy industry company, every heavy manufacturing company, take the first step” Fortescue Chairman, Dr. Andrew Forrest stated.

The company is planning to phase out fossil fuels and replace them with carbon-free fuel sources, such as hydrogen, that can still power heavy machinery. Alongside, Fortescue has also announced that they will be deploying two to three gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy and battery storage across all of their mining sites.

“Consistent with Fortescue’s disciplined approach to capital allocation, this investment in renewable energy and decarbonisation is expected to generate attractive economic returns for our shareholders through energy cost savings and a sharp reduction in carbon offset purchases, together with a lower risk cost profile and improvement in the integrity of our assets,” said Dr. Forrest.

He is also encouraging other mining companies to make the big switch for the betterment of the environment and for the sake of future generations. The excessive amounts of carbon being produced by the industry is very harmful to the ozone layer and can also intensify the effects of climate change. 

Green Power Generators

Researchers are currently studying decommissioned mines to determine if they can be transformed into energy storage facilities. According to Keweenaw Energy Transition Lab at Michigan Technological University or MTU, a group of researchers are looking into opportunities and barriers for repurposing a decommissioned mine into a pumped underground storage hydropower or PUSH facility. 

Researchers have found that the PUSH system can be profitable and can be used for a long period of time to store energy and generate it as well. These transformed mines have a positive impact on the environment and economy apart from having significant societal implications. Currently, over 1,000 sites in 15 states are being studied to determine if they are suitable for the PUSH system. 

Roman Sidortsov, an MTU professor, and Timothy Scarlett, an industrial archaeologist, are looking at mines located in the Keweenaw Peninsula. They are positive that these are suitable for the PUSH system taking into account its technical, economic, legal, regulatory, water quality, social, and community engagement issues.

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“Everything estimated is based on the existing technology, the existing structures—virtually no new work in terms of rebuilding the mine or additional blasting. The team was also cautious about revenue predictions. For example, they estimated revenue from only buying and selling electricity on the market but noted that there are other services that could be money-making endeavors. These include the ability to “black start” the energy grid after a power failure. If the energy grid is underpowered or there are significant blackouts, PUSH can come to the rescue,” said Sidortsov.

Scarlett added that the opportunity to study the PUSH system has helped them further understand past mistakes in the mining industry. The new project supports clean energy production and independence. There is no need for new machinery to drill new holes in the ground since we will be working with what we have on hand. 

Big Switch gone wrong?

The use of electric cars is on the rise but are they really as environmentally friendly as we think? In order to make a single battery, one needs a lot of different metals such as iron, copper, lithium etc. 

Battery innovation has been a hot topic of discussion for environmentalists around the world. To keep up with the demands of the green energy transition, lithium companies must produce ten times of what they are producing today every year until 2050. 

According to Jamer Morton Turner, the author of “Charged: A History of Batteries and Lessons for a Clean Energy Future”, the battery-powered future contains much more “past” than it does “future”. Attempts to make different prototypes battery-powered can further harm the environment. 

“Electricity has the capability of decarbonising transportation in a way that internal-combustion engines never will. But the carbon impact of electrification varies dramatically depending on a country’s energy mix … Countries must adopt credible and achievable electricity decarbonisation strategies if the EV transition is to be a success,” said researcher Sid Bagga. 

Bagga also added that Ireland produces a higher amount of zero-carbon electricity than Moldova – but it also gets about 13% of its electricity from oil (1.8x dirtier than gas), 9% from coal (2.3x dirtier than gas), and 3% from peat (2.6x dirtier than gas).

The shift to electric vehicles will undoubtedly have some positive impact on our environment but will also lead to some undesirable effects. EVs do not have tailpipe emissions but they may still produce carbon pollution. 

Undoubtedly, electric vehicles today have a good range and are usually good enough for typical daily use (approx. 50 miles per day) in the United States. However, their overall impact needs to be further studied by researchers and scientists. 

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