Countries around the world are demanding greater environmental accountability of themselves and others. Many are turning to technology for answers. Industrial computers, which can be built to consume less power, is one such example.

The mining industry is a major industrial sector going green. People may be surprised to learn how much today’s mining operations are already heavily invested in “green mining.” 

We cover those efforts today. Not only do we discuss why mining companies are interested in sustainability, but four green tech either already in use, or will be in the not-so-distant future. 

What is Green Technology in the Mining Industry?

Green technology refers to those sciences and technologies that limit the effects of human activities on the planet. Some may even reverse those effects. 

Green mining applies those technologies, best practices, and mine processes to reduce the environmental impact. This is done by adopting practices that:

  • Minimize waste
  • Promote reforestation
  • Reduce energy consumption
  • Reduce water usage

Protecting the environment is the primary goal. Take a look at climate change. Traditional mining practices contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. This, in turn, drives up global temperatures. 

Water scarcity is another example. It is a critical challenge to mining since standard practices consume large amounts of water. This can lead to the depletion of local water supplies. 

Green mining methods aim to reduce both the above emissions and water usage. 

Going green benefits not only the environment but also the industry itself. Consumers are becoming increasingly environmentally conscious. Many current mining practices are under a magnifying glass, their degrading effects on the environment scrutinized and criticized repeatedly. Lithium mining is one such industry, thanks to the vast increase in demand for lithium-ion batteries powering today’s electronics, from smartphones to electric vehicles.  

Consumers demand sustainability along the entire supply chain, from when the mineral or metal is found and mined to when it appears in their products. Mining companies that meet these expectations attract new customers, receive increased customer loyalty, and in general, improve the reputation of the industry.

The following are four green mining innovations the industry uses or explores. 

Mining More Mine Tailings for Minerals and Metals

Tailings are the leftover materials from the processing of mined ore. They generally come out in a slurry form, consisting of ground rock, metals, chemicals, organic matter,  and effluent (wastewater). They are stored on the surface in tailings dams or tailings storage facilities.

As sources of toxic chemicals such as heavy metals, radioactive, and sulfides, tailings can be toxic and harmful to the environment. Green mining here aims to process them efficiently. New technologies are making it possible to further mine once unrecoverable and uneconomic metals from these tailings. Companies are also exploring how to utilize them in agroforestry (trees planted with crops), paint extenders, and even as bricks. All these methods and more help reduce the amount of waste product stored in tailings dams. 

Dust Suppression Techniques to Save Lives

Mining activities like lithium mining kick up vast amounts of dust. This not only comes from the core operation of extracting minerals and metal from the earth, but heavy truck traffic to and from the work site.

The release of dust particles into the air can be a real hazard. The coal dust, silica dust, and other finely powdered materials can damage workers’ airways and lungs. This affects worker safety, health and productiveness, and operational efficiency. Relationships with the communities surrounding the mine site can suffer. (Which can get costly if any lawsuits are involved.)

Environmentally friendly, fully-certified dust control technologies are green mining innovations companies use to keep dust under control. Three well-known solutions used at many sites include:

  • Advanced dust monitoring equipment to monitor amounts of silica in real-time.
  • Binder products are sprayed onto haul roads to trap dust and prevent their inhalation. 
  • High-pressure dust suppression systems that bind dust in the air. 

Industrial tablets can help control many of these devices. Even better, they are not affected by any dust or water present thanks to their fanless design and IP65 sealed bezels. 

Driving Green with Electric Mining Vehicles

Mining companies wanting to reduce their environmental impact can switch to more eco-friendly equipment. More durable tires are an example of such a simple switch. By lasting longer, they reduce the turnover of machinery. This in turn, reduces the environmental costs of damaged equipment (i.e., rubber or plastic shed as a piece of equipment breaks down.) 

A more radical change is a push towards exclusively using electric mining equipment. This form of green mining can result in massive carbon savings for mining companies. Epiroc, a Swedish mining equipment manufacturer, already plans to offer electric versions of all its underground mining equipment by 2025. 

Biomining Using Bacteria to Dissolve Ore for Mineral Wealth

This last green mining technology is the most radical. It involves the development of “green” extraction methods that do not use toxic chemicals or generate hazardous waste. 

It’s known the use of enzymes from bacteria can selectively dissolve metals from ore. Called bioleaching or biomining, the technology is already being used to extract copper, gold, and uranium from low-grade ore on a small scale. Industrial leaders like Teck Resources are teaming up with scientists to develop ways to scale it – and even replace – conventional methods. 

Per a Teck spokesperson: “M-MAP [Mining Microbiome Analytics Platform] is the first integrated online platform which aims to extract the DNA from more than 15,000 mining site samples over the next two years to identify microbes that can be used to replace chemical and other legacy extraction methods for minerals and metals, and to perform safer, more effective remediation of legacy and operational mine sites.”

Closing Thoughts

Green mining is a form of green technology. It’s focused on making mining operations more environmentally friendly and sustainable. Technologies ranging from dust control to using bacteria to extract vital minerals and metals from ore are just a couple of ways to mine without further damaging the earth. 

Are you charged by your mining company to find ways to make operations more green? Contact an expert at Cybernet to see how our industrial computers, mini PCs, and tablets can aid you in you and your company’s efforts. 

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