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The global mining industry must move away from legacy systems and processes if it is to meet the challenge of decarbonisation, according to a report commissioned by Weir Group.

The Mining Energy Consumption 2021 report calculates mining’s share of global energy consumption and identifies ways the industry can aid the transition to net zero emissions needed to limit temperatures in line with the Paris Agreement.

It analyses mine energy data from over 40 published studies to give a comprehensive understanding of where energy is consumed in mining and minerals processing.

According to the report, the total amount of power used by the mining industry – which plays an essential role providing the metals used at the heart of the modern economy – is equal to c.3.5 per cent of global energy use.

The metals produced by mining are critical for enabling the global transition to low-carbon infrastructure. But without action, energy use in mining itself is set to trend higher in the coming years as demand increases for metals like copper, nickel and zinc.

The report suggests there are technologies available today that could make a significant difference to a trend of energy use moving higher in the mining industry as demand for metals like copper, nickel and zinc increases.

For example, the report highlights that comminution – i.e. crushing and grinding processes – is the single biggest user of energy at mine sites, typically accounting for 25 per cent of mining’s final energy consumption.

This is equivalent to the power used by 221 million typical United Kingdom homes, or c.1 per cent of total consumption globally. Comminution is therefore a natural target for the most impactful energy savings opportunities.

Weir Group chief executive Jon Stanton said the mining industry was central to economic development globally, with critical minerals enabling the low-carbon transition required in the rest of the economy.

“But the environment in which it will operate in future will be very different from the past, requiring comprehensive change and investment,” Stanton said.

“In short: mining needs to become more sustainable and efficient if it is to provide essential resources the world needs for decarbonisation while reducing its own environmental impact.

“This report is an important contribution to that debate which we hope will spark thoughtful conversations around the world on the way forward.”

Other significant opportunities identified by the report for reducing mining’s energy consumption include optimisation, big data and artificial intelligence.

In addition, if zero emissions energy sources are deployed for mining equipment – e.g., renewable energy, energy storage and alternative fuels – then the industry may well be able to achieve zero emissions, leaving a relatively small role for offsets and carbon credits to play.