Meeting the Carbon-free Challenge

Steve Fiscor

This edition has two features dedicated to Nordic mining and technology. Much of it is based on what I learned during my trip to Skellefteĺ, Sweden, to participate in the Euro Mine Expo event during June. One of the interesting things about this event is the collection of languages (Swedish, Suomi and Russian), dialects and the cultures. To say they have a different perspective there would be putting it mildly. At the end of the day, however, it’s hardrock miners and suppliers, and they have a lot in common with their counterparts around the world.

Late one night in the pub, as an example, an underground driller was taking me to task. “We have the deepest, safest and most advanced mines in the world,” he said with a lot of pride. That’s a good thing. What mining executive wouldn’t want to hear one of their own bragging about their mine this way. But I couldn’t let him get away with it. I told him there were a lot of safe mines and that, yes, his mine was deep, but it wasn’t the deepest. At the same time, E&MJ’s ad salesman was reminding me how big this guy was and looking for the door. I stayed the course and explained that there were similar mines doing similar things in eastern Canada, the U.S., and Australia, and that some of the deepest mines were in South Africa. After another round, we agreed to disagree. The next day I felt confirmation when a global marketing manager from Epiroc repeated most of the statistics I rattled off in the pub.

In this part of the world, climate change from greenhouse gases is accepted, not debated, and everyone is doing their part to reduce their carbon footprint. They have an advantage. Most of their power is derived from renewable sources (hydroelectricity). So, switching from fossil-fueled engines to battery-powered drives really does reduce the carbon footprint, where in many parts of the world it does not. They also realize that, if they are going down this road, then they better start making some batteries otherwise they will be sending their money to Asian battery factories rather than oil sheiks in the Middle East. So Northvolt’s decision to locate a major, modern battery factory in Skellefteĺ was a timely topic of conversation.

Speaking at Euro Mine Expo, Mikael Damberg, Sweden’s Minister for Enterprise and Innovation, cited the new Northvolt battery plant as a prime example of a new, sustainable transformation in the economy that will depend on minerals and metals. He also said he has never seen such a big interest in the mining sector. “The debate today is more about how mining is a part of modern society’s solutions, not part of its problems,” Damberg said.

Sweden has high ambitions in terms of CO2 emissions, which go well beyond the rest of the European Union, Damberg explained. Among other things, emissions from public transport is set to decrease by 70% by 2030 and this will not be possible without electrification. “We have said that we want to be one of the first fossil-free welfare states in the world,” Damberg said. “In order to secure the availability of raw materials, the Nordic region needs to increase production to support this economy.”

What you will read in the Nordic report is that region’s mining sector is trying to set the example as the world’s most sustainable. The technology to meet these sustainability requirements is developing at a rapid pace. With many mining suppliers as well as technology developers based in the region, the mines there are also serving as the proving grounds to meet the carbon-free challenge.

Steve Fiscor, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief, E&MJ

As featured in Womp 2018 Vol 10 -