By Chris Carpenter
Amidst the low-carbon revolution taking place around the globe, the next statement may seem provocative and even paradoxical: Mining, metals and minerals extraction are essential to a low-carbon economy.
With the continuing expansion of new technologies and the birth of Industry 4.0, metals have never been more important. Copper, lithium, tin, silver, gold, nickel and other metals are critical to electronic devices and tools that improve how we live and work. They also make it possible for environmentally friendly, low-carbon power sources like solar cells, batteries, electric vehicle motors, wind turbines and fuel cells to exist.
But, while mining has an important role in delivering essential metals that enable the world’s transition to lower carbon energy, it must be noted that the industry also must reduce its own environmental impact.
Although charged with delivering the natural resources that will power a low-carbon future, the worldwide mining industry is under tremendous pressure to operate more sustainably. Weir ESCO provides highly engineered steel products that are used to extract these desired metals.
The role for us and other technology leaders in this space is clear: Take the initiative to develop products that allow these companies to be more sustainable – specifically, products that consume less energy, use less water, last longer and generate less, recyclable waste. It’s an enormous opportunity and responsibility – and customers expect it. Nothing short of an intense commitment to innovation is needed.
To truly innovate, we have to start at the beginning by eliminating waste at the product design phase. We must design-in outcomes that drive sustainability like extended product wear life, increased operating efficiency, less downtime, reduced reliance on water and fossil fuels, and environmentally friendly product end-of-life strategies. This will require new advancements in metallurgy and innovative digital solutions that integrate new sensing, automation and performance tracking and analysis technologies.
Members of our industry must also innovate to drive greater sustainability in our own businesses. Our parent company, The Weir Group, recently announced an ambitious sustainability strategy that, in addition to creating sustainable solutions for our customers, commits to reducing the company’s carbon footprint 50% by 2030 and to net zero by 2050.
To help lead the way, we have implemented a comprehensive program focused on reducing our energy consumption with an early emphasis on our global foundry operations. This effort employs a variety of innovative technologies, including 3D modeling, simulation analysis, physical testing, and other digital tools to help us take smart and effective steps in our sustainability journey.
Not only have we demonstrated the ability to reduce the amount of CO2 required to make our parts, but we also have measured significant product-use savings for our customers compared with alternative products. We still have much to learn relative to sustainable design but are excited about some of these early wins.
Of course, no commitment to innovation is complete without industry’s pledge to develop future engineers and technologists in our own backyards and the world at large. Every city, town and county have young people with the natural gifts to excel in a STEM field. There is no better time for our industry to support opportunities that ensure creativity and innovation will continue to thrive and drive sustainable solutions.
At Weir ESCO, we are longtime supporters of STEM programs in our Portland, Ore., United States, community. Among our many high-impact investments in STEM education is a scholarship program supporting engineering students at Oregon State University. We also partner with Saturday Academy to provide learning opportunities in science and engineering for high school students who are poised to make critical decisions about pursuing STEM careers. And, when it is safe, we again will be engaging directly with the community through a new mobile casting booth available to schools and organisations to augment the education process and by hosting foundry tours to raise awareness of STEM careers.
Albert Einstein is credited with saying that a problem can’t be solved on the same level it was created. We have to rise above it to the next level. That’s innovation. And, no matter the industry, innovating for greater sustainability is in everyone’s best interests.
As vice president, innovation and technology, for Weir’s ESCO division, Chris Carpenter is responsible for developing disruptive technology that creates new and expanded opportunities for the company. More than half of his career has been dedicated to the development of new technology and products for the mining and infrastructure markets.