Researchers have demonstrated how a detailed “cradle-to-grave” assessment at the start of new metal mining exploration can greatly mitigate negative environmental impacts.
A team of researchers from the University of Exeter, Minviro, the British Geological Survey and the Circular Economy Solutions Unit have shown the benefits of using a life cycle assessment (LCA) for the purpose of improve “green” mining techniques.
LCAs make it possible to assess the environmental impacts associated with the life cycle of commercial products, from the extraction of raw materials to their use and, ultimately, their disposal.
With the growing demand for the transition to renewable energy sources, the need to source sustainable and environmentally friendly technological raw materials and metals has increased.
As a result, the quest to find and unearth rare earth minerals lithium, cobalt and graphite, among others, for electric car batteries, turbines and solar panels – with minimal impact on the natural environment – has amplified.
In the new scientific journal published in Nature Comments Earth & Environment, the research team describes how an LCA that incorporates considerations of geology, mineralogy and “geometallurgy” can help identify potential “hot spots” before new mining operations begin.
This new approach will allow geologists to help select potential exploration targets that naturally lend themselves to lower environmental impacts, which will help find the best metal deposits with the least potential natural disturbance.
Professor Frances Wall, from the Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter, said: “There is a huge opportunity for countries to use their natural mineral resources to help decarbonization, but it is important that this is done in the right way so that it produces sustainable development. and not to disaster. “
Robert Pell, de Minviro and the University of Exeter, and lead author of the article, added: “The writing of this review has been an excellent opportunity to bring together the results of recent academic research and the experience of our Minviro consulting company. “
Dr Xiaoyu Yan from the Institute of Environment and Sustainability, University of Exeter said: “Understanding the environmental impacts of emerging technologies over their entire life cycle, especially the stage supply of raw materials in the case of clean energy technologies, is essential to ensure that they are truly sustainable. “
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