June 24, 2024

With efforts increasing to decarbonise industrial operations due to the ongoing effects of climate change, interest in making mining operations more sustainable is increasing. The Murrin Murrin cobalt and nickel mine in Leonora WA has recently received a federal grant of $35.7 million to hybridise their existing energy system with renewable energy and batteries.

However making mine operations more sustainable is not only focused on decarbonising the energy systems which power mine sites, instead there are broader processes that can make mining more sustainable in the long term.

These include:

Sustainable environmental operation

  • Water conservation: In addition to using renewable energy to power mine operations, conserving water can make mine sites more sustainable. Water recycling measures can reduce the total water footprint of a mine site and using renewable energy to treat water onsite can reduce both the cost and carbon footprint of supplying mine operations with water.
  • Minimising environmental impact: Mining operations involve environmentally hazardous procedures such as blasting and chemical treatment. By limiting pollution and managing tailings dams, operations can be made more environmentally sustainable. Mining activities can also be planned to minimise the effect on the local ecosystem.
  • Land rehabilitation: Sustainable operation does not cease when the site reaches end of life. Rehabilitating the site and returning the ecosystem to the state prior to operations is part of the overall sustainable operation of a mine site. This can include reforestation, the treatment of any remaining waste sources and the reintroduction of native species.


Sustainable economic operation

  • Effective resource use: By more efficiently extracting mineral resources, the energetic cost per tonne is reduced, which increases the value. Advanced mining technologies are also allowing for agricultural by-products such as straw to be used in the place of coal in the processing of iron ore into steel. This reduces the cost of the steel and also reduces its overall carbon footprint.
  • Efficient energy use: With renewable energy now cheaper to generate per kWh than fossil fuel sources, many mine sites are switching to hybrid power systems not just to decarbonise their electricity supply but also to reduce the total cost of their energy. Rio Tinto is currently installing 100,000 solar panels at its Gudai-Darri mine to generate 34 MW of electricity for mine operations – providing approximately 65% of the mine’s power requirement during peak solar power generation.

Image Credit: Rio Tinto


Sustainable social operation

  • Community engagement: To ensure that mine sites retain their social licence to operate and can continue to operate sustainably, mine operators must ensure that they minimise any social impacts of mining activities. This includes avoiding mass job lay-offs, adhering to noise curfews and maintaining transparency with mine operations (both current and future).
  • Responsible extraction rates: Sustainable mining includes using extraction rates that will not compromise the potential resource needs of future generations. Sustainable mineral extraction will never exceed the rate at which mineral resources are discovered.
  • Health and safety: Sustainable mine operation includes providing a safe work environment for all workers onsite.

Moerk Water are experts in consulting with mine sites to reduce their water footprint and the decarbonisation of power systems. Contact Moerk Water today to find out more.