There’s no clean energy without mining

How the green challenge is driving innovation in one of society’s oldest industries

Blog by Gary Agnew, CEO and Co-founder, Ideon Technologies

For thousands of years, people have explored the Earth seeking minerals and metals for use in everyday life, cultural expression, and special ceremonies. As one of the earliest industries to emerge in human society, mining provides the building blocks of the world as we know it. Find it, extract it, process it, move on – there’s not much room for innovation there, some might say.

Or is there?

In fact, some of the most significant industrial progress underway today involves mining. Over the course of my career, I’ve seen a steady acceleration of change that is actively reshaping this 40,000-year-old practice. And it’s a good thing too, because every minute of every day, we all rely on the products of mining – from metal, glass, and plastics to fertilizers, fuels, computer components, and construction materials.

Minerals and metals power the clean energy transition

Currently, minerals and metals are in high demand to facilitate the world’s transition to clean energy, with the pressure on to find more than 3 billion tons to deploy technologies such as wind, solar, geothermal power, and electrification. Case in point, Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently implored miners to boost nickel supplies to meet demand for battery production for electric vehicles, promising a “giant contract for a long period of time” for those who do it efficiently and in an environmentally sensitive way.

CEO and Co-founder Gary Agnew near Ideon Technologies’ HQ in British Columbia, Canada.

The challenge is to access those resources responsibly

For an industry as critical to our livelihoods as mining, there’s certainly no shortage of public critique, and much of it is understandable given the world’s perception is rooted in historic practices, loose regulation, and perceived slow adoption rates of new technology. But I am encouraged by what I see as a fundamental shift now underway around us, inspired by courageous leaders trying bold and creative new ways to access the Earth’s resources more efficiently, responsibly, and with as little impact on the environment and our communities as possible. As BHP CEO Mike Henry recently noted, the industry must adapt to tougher expectations and standards to succeed.  “In the end,” he said, “there is little choice about whether mining happens or not. There is a tough choice about how it happens and who does it.”

“In the end, there is little choice about whether mining happens or not. There is a tough choice about how it happens and who does it.”

Mike Henry, BHP CEO

Mining is key to global sustainable development

To his point, the United Nations has acknowledged the important role that mining plays in eradicating global poverty (one of its Sustainable Development Goals), while underscoring the responsibility of governments and industry to ‘transform natural assets into sustained prosperity for both current and future generations’. Last month alone, 75 nations came together (virtually of course) to determine how to leverage mining for sustainable development purposes. It’s not an easy proposition – this kind of work requires huge effort, big decisions, and significant up-front investment, not to mention an unshakeable confidence that system-level change will provide long-term returns.

The courage to drive system-level change will deliver long-term success

Even so, 40,000 years on, it is with the same ancient spirit of exploration that today’s successful miners are taking big leaps forward, embracing advanced technology and establishing new frontiers in sustainability because – in the end – their economic success is intrinsically tied to social progress and environmental stewardship.

I see our role at Ideon as an enabling partner helping to facilitate this shift, working with our mining clients and industry allies to locate and access important new mineral deposits in a more precise, less invasive way, and with a higher level of confidence. Our vision is to transform subsurface discovery by allowing explorers to see clearly underground – in the same way that doctors use x-rays to view inside the human body.

The Ideon muon tomography discovery platform harnesses the power of naturally occurring cosmic rays from space, detecting and measuring sub-atomic particles called muons to provide unprecedented visibility 1 km beneath the Earth’s surface. Our unique straight-line imaging technique delivers unparalleled location accuracy with higher spatial resolution than other geophysical survey tools.

Increasing subsurface certainty unlocks new value

By enabling mining companies to see the unseen – effectively creating a digital twin of the subsurface – we deliver a high certainty of discovery in an environment that has traditionally been very uncertain. At the same time, our approach helps clients reduce environmental impact and improve operational efficiencies so they can extend life-of-mine and deliver on their ambitious goals.

Because we help them drill less and discover more – right from the beginning of the complex mining process – we empower those clients to advance system-level transformation. In this way, I see Ideon doing its part to keep society’s oldest industry at the forefront of innovation – and in doing so, ensure a sustainable, resource-rich future for generations to come.

Gary has spent 25 years providing mining equipment, technology, and services (METS) in support of the global mining industry, including over 20 years at Finning International before becoming CEO of Ideon Technologies.

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