Wednesday, 27 March 2019
How Modern Mining Feeds Technological Growth
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How Modern Mining Feeds Technological Growth

The fruits of commercial mining are all around us. You can walk down the street and point to hundreds – even thousands – of examples. The cars we drive, the smartphones we use, even the zips on our pants. All of it came from a mine somewhere. Try to cook a meal, take a vacation, or get your work done without the help of mined ore. You won’t get far. Even the plant-based products we see around us, including lumber, were harvested and prepared with the help of mined ore.

Does that mean people shouldn’t raise ethical questions about mining? Of course not. Our planet’s ore is a precious and finite resource. It must be used as responsibly and ethically as possible – especially now that our environmental challenges have been made clearer by science.

The various players in our industry – from mining operators to manufacturers of blast detonation systems – should always be pushing to make ethical strides in how they conduct business. The world needs to know that mining can be responsible and sustainable when done right. Consider these three areas of future innovation, and their relationship to ore:

Alternative energies 

A vast field of solar panels, or a landscape dotted with giant wind generators, is a sight to behold. The promise of renewable energy is one of most exciting technological developments of our time. So what kind of progress is being made? The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that by 2022, energy from wind and solar will constitute one third of the global grid. This is due in part to larger consumers (e.g. China and India) realising their own need to shift course if their massive populations and industrial bases are to be supported over the long term.

So how are the tools that harvest clean energy made? Polymers and fiberglass materials are used in the construction of a wind turbine, but the bulk of the structure is made of steel. A typical turbine also requires two tonnes of copper for its generators and cables.

In terms of solar panels, manufacturers generally need a metal frame and special wires made from mined ore, in addition to the silicon cells themselves. Aside from recycled sources, the only one place to find these materials is the earth’s outer crust.

Medical breakthroughs

The advances made by medical science in the 20th century are incredible – but what’s on the horizon could be mind-boggling. Developments like surgical robots controlled by remote doctors could make complex surgeries safer and more accessible throughout the world. Nanobots developed by special machines could revolutionize the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Closed-loop insulin delivery systems could be life changing for diabetes patients.

The list goes on – but what most of these new developments have in common is the need for metal and minerals. Copper, silver and titanium in particular are essential in the medical industry – and this won’t change anytime soon.

Virtual currencies

Do cyber currencies like Bitcoin represent a more stable and sensible way to create and distribute global wealth – or is it a red herring? There are people on both sides of the issue, and only time will tell who is right. What we do know is that several nations have officially recognized Bitcoin as a viable currency.

We also know that special hardware has become necessary to solve the complex equations involved in creating or “mining” new bitcoins. Can this hardware exist without mined ore? The answer is a definite no. As long as currencies like Bitcoin are relevant, they will continue to depend on real mining and real ore.

Blazing a trail toward ethical mining

The 21st century will be built on technological innovation, and much of that innovation will be built on metals and minerals. That’s why it’s so important to push the boundaries of mining itself. The industries we support are blazing new trails with materials we extract from the earth. We can’t stand still and watch while we ourselves continue to do things the same way. We must continue to blaze our own trail toward a more productive and ethical mining industry – and be an active part of the change that mined ore is helping to create.

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