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The Pathway to Net Zero

by Krystal Morrell

Copper Smelting process in a copper manufacturing plant

In the global effort to combat climate change, companies worldwide are prioritizing the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The International Copper Association (ICA) has recognized the potential for reducing GHG emissions in copper production due to the exceptional conductivity properties of copper, which make it ideal for decarbonizing technologies. With the projected rapid increase in global copper demand, expected to double to 60 million tonnes by 2050, transforming the way copper is produced can have a significant impact on worldwide GHG emission reduction.

The ICA and its partners have extensively analyzed research, environmental impact studies, and current as well as emerging technologies. Based on this information, they have developed "The Pathway to Net Zero" – a practical approach to decarbonizing copper production. The objective of this plan is to provide a concrete strategy for collaborating agencies to minimize the carbon footprint of copper mining, smelting, refining, and recycling as much as possible, aiming for net zero emissions by 2050. Let's break down their plan:

Step one- Decarbonized Electricity:

A key strategy for reducing GHG emissions proposed by the ICA is the use of decarbonized electricity. Decarbonized electricity is generated from sources that do not produce greenhouse gas emissions, such as solar, wind, hydro, and nuclear power. This can be achieved by either sourcing electricity from a decarbonized supply or generating it on-site through renewable energy sources. By adopting decarbonized electricity, emissions from mining and processing copper can be significantly reduced.

Step two- Equipment Electrification:

The ICA aims to electrify equipment used in copper production, including battery-driven haulage trucks, electric drills, and in-pit crushing and conveying systems. By transitioning to electric or battery-powered equipment, the use of fossil fuels in these processes can be eliminated or reduced. The technology required for this shift already exists, such as battery or fully electric pantograph trucks and electric furnaces, making it feasible to replace high-emission vehicles and equipment with cleaner alternatives. This transition would have a substantial impact on reducing emissions at copper production sites, given the large number of equipment involved.

Step three- Alternative Fuels:

Another approach by the ICA to lower GHG emissions is through the use of alternative fuels when electrification is not possible. Examples of such fuels include hydro-treated vegetable oil, e-fuels, and hydrogen. By substituting these fuels for traditional fossil fuels, the ICA can significantly reduce emissions associated with transportation and other processes in copper production. In cases where a complete shift away from diesel is not feasible, biodiesel can serve as a viable alternative for trucks, excavators, and drills. Additionally, green hydrogen shows promise as a compromise fuel for applications like haulage trucks and smelting furnaces, allowing a transition away from fossil fuels.

Step four- Efficiency Gains:

Efficiency gains are a vital component of the ICA's plan to reduce GHG emissions. This involves using higher efficiency grinding media in mills and improving smelting and leaching processes. By enhancing efficiency, the ICA can minimize the energy required in copper production and, consequently, reduce GHG emissions. As processes become more energy efficient, the energy demand decreases, leading to lower emissions released into the environment.

In summary, the ICA's strategy to reduce GHG emissions from copper production encompasses various approaches. Through the use of decarbonized electricity, alternative fuels, equipment electrification, and efficiency improvements, the ICA aims to make significant strides in reducing their carbon footprint. These efforts are crucial in the fight against climate change, and it is important for us all to support such initiatives to make a positive impact on the environment. By working together, we can contribute to the reduction of the carbon footprint associated with copper mining and production, bringing us closer to the goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

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