By John Fennell, CEO, International Copper Association Australia

The copper industry plays a key role in driving the push to net zero, but alongside assisting other industries to reach their targets, the copper industry must also take steps to decrease its own carbon footprint and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In late 2023, market analysts CRU predicted that copper demand will grow by 39 per cent to 42.5 million metric tonnes by 2050, but not everyone in the industry agreed. The United Nations said that demand would double and although S&P Global agreed, it said demand would hit 50 million metric tonnes a bit earlier in 2035.

The point is that copper speculation is now rampant as markets, traders and analysts attempt to get an accurate fix on demand, supply and, ultimately, prices.

Does it matter? If the world is to have any hope of achieving its climate goals it most certainly matters given the crucial role copper is playing in global decarbonisation and electrification.

Already a number of authorities like the US Government, the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the International Energy Agency – and of course the Federal Government – are starting to question how to boost supply at a time when new deposits are hard to find and existing mines are increasingly producing lower grade ore.

Next generation copper

Finding and processing more copper ore is also an urgent quandary for copper companies who are under pressure to lower their own climate footprint.

This pressure comes as the copper industry is said to produce 0.2 per cent of the world’s carbon footprint each year across Scopes 1, 2 and 3, and as the copper industry aims to hit ambitious net zero benchmarks of its own.

A series of sustainable mining roadmaps have been developed and released by the International Copper Association Australia (ICAA) and other stakeholders over the last few years in a bid to help the copper industry lower its carbon footprint.

The latest in the series of roadmaps, Ventilation and Emissions Reporting, was released in March 2024 and offers deep dive technological insights into how copper mines can tackle essential operational and processing issues like water management, material movement and mineral processing as sustainably as possible going forward.

Apart from a broad exploration of current, near and future technologies, systems and processes, the roadmaps plot how companies can benchmark their performance, improve reporting, understand regulatory frameworks and embed innovation both internally as well as collaboratively by tapping networking opportunities, funding resources and utilising new technologies and industry expertise.

Ventilation and Emissions Reporting serves as another critical element in that picture.

A focus on ventilation

Ventilation is a crucial part of the upstream copper production process – particularly for underground mining – where efficient ventilation impacts the energy intensity and operating costs of a mine while contributing to a site’s emission profile and operational viability. It also impacts employee safety, environmental stewardship and assurance.

The importance of adequate ventilation is now well-recognised, with design specifications and regulatory imperatives constantly evolving to meet the demands of modern mining operations.

Each mining operation is different, and advanced ventilation systems are designed to address unique site-specific requirements and challenges.

Ventilation and Emissions Reporting outlines how companies can explore and progress a range of new models that could optimise energy efficiency for existing ventilation systems while exploring novel approaches to ventilation in the future. It begins with optimising planning and design methods coupled with exploring and adopting advanced technologies to support alternate models of airflow and thermal management and air quality control.

Specific technology examples could include:

  • The use of Digital Twin technology for optimised design
  • ‘Ventilation on demand’ methods to drive positional efficiency and to optimise site energy consumption
  • The application of advanced sensor technologies to drive interoperability between processes and capture data via Machine Learning and Artificial intelligence
  • Wearable technology to support thermal management

Understanding emission reporting

Emission reporting is also highly complex as requirements to meet international standards – as well
as country-specific and emerging frameworks – present significant challenges for copper producers. Developments, including Scope 3 emissions accounting, natural capital accounting, mechanisms like Australia’s Safeguard Mechanism and ESG reporting are redefining the settings for environmental accountability.

Ventilation and Emissions Reporting outlines a comparative analysis across a range of producers, key frameworks and mining regions, including Chile, Peru, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, North America and Australia, revealing the nuanced landscape of emission reporting in mining and the need for harmonised practices. The analysis involved benchmarking select industry advancements, examining the connection with emerging codes of practice and auditing the methodologies utilised for calculating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

This effort highlights variations or deficiencies among companies and the need for more comprehensive baselines. Benchmarking paves the way for an in-depth evaluation of the sector’s total emissions and is an important tool to spotlight areas of focus towards reducing emissions in the future.

Collaboration and innovation

Ventilation and Emissions Reporting is, like the other four previous reports, a unique collaboration between the resources sector, government, universities and the mining technology industry. Its core message is that innovation will be fundamental to getting the copper industry to net zero and that can only be properly harnessed through partnerships, shared knowledge, cross industry experimentation, facilitation of new ideas and methods and new company-wide approaches.

One real world example that has now grown out of the suite of net zero reports is a digital platform called CopperConnect, which is designed to aggregate knowledge, share insights, document new technologies and accelerate innovation. ICAA is now developing the new platform that will be open to the whole industry – a completely new, accessible and comprehensive way to understand the current state of the industry as it transitions to far more sustainable mining.

Ventilation and Emission Reporting was supported by ICAA and a collection of mining companies, and the ICAA’s Roadmap to Zero Project is supported by the New South Wales Government.

Sector-wide initiatives for sustainable mining, institutional efforts exemplified by the International Council on Mining and Metals, The Copper Mark, and specific regional initiatives like Australia’s mining standards, set a range of frameworks to support sustainable mining practices. These collective endeavours are instrumental in shaping a more responsible mining sector.

Innovation is critical and the new report identifies systemic barriers in the industry, challenges traditional methodologies and fosters a culture of collaboration and knowledge exchange to foster real change. Every copper producer and each copper operation will face its own pathway to decarbonisation, but Ventilation and Emission Reporting suggests what can be done together.

Featured image: Michael Evans/


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