Why are metals and minerals important in our everyday life?
The brick and mortar of modern society
From when we wake up, travel to work, throughout our working lives to momentous moments like popping the big question, mined minerals and metals are a key ingredient in everyday life.
Apart from contributing to the fundamentals and the general economic growth, the mining and metals industry is essential to the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable future and to climate change mitigation. Minerals and metals are critical components in a wide variety of clean energy technologies, from wind turbines, nuclear power, and solar panels to electric vehicles and battery storage. Going forward, our reliance on metals and minerals is not declining; quite the opposite, it is rapidly increasing.
Clean technologies are mineral intensive
The transition to clean energy technologies requires high amounts of metals and minerals. For example, electric vehicles contain lithium ion batteries, manganese, cobalt, nickel and graphite. Renewable energy such as solar power and wind energy generate electricity without emissions, however, building them requires and lots of metals and minerals. A solar PV panel uses a combination of up to 22 non-ferrous metals. An industrial sized wind turbine can require 3 tonnes of copper and magnets made of rare earth metals 1 .
Recycling cuts the carbon footprint of new products
Recycling enables the creation of new goods with a far smaller carbon footprint than by extracting virgin resources. Metals are circular by nature, and can be recycled indefinitely without losing their properties. For example the EU aims to recycle 70% of the mass battery waste by the end of the decade and is working on a new regulatory framework for batteries. The proposed changes would for example place an recycled content declaration requirement, which would apply from 1 January 2027 to industrial batteries, EV batteries and automotive batteries containing cobalt, lead, lithium or nickel in active materials.
A change is needed
Today's recycling rates don't really appear promising. Every year, nearly 53 million tonnes of electronic waste is generated globally. 80% of e-waste is disposed of in landfills, worth USD 55 billion each year 2 .
Meeting the outlined recycling targets will require a totally new way of thinking about all recycling flows, as well as significant technological advancements in order to achieve a clear route to large-scale, cost-effective recycling.
Design plays a central part of circularity
The question of what happens next needs to be solved already in the initial design phase The equation of how different materials are mixed and how readily they can be reused, repaired, refurbished, or deconstructed is crucial in the case of physical products or even large scale construction projects, and it must be answered at the planning stage.
Metals and minerals in our everyday life
Our reliance on metals and minerals is rapidly increasing
To meet the future demand, we need to be more responsible in our ways of mining, refining and recycling. However, even if we would be able to recycle 100% it would not be enough. Out future metal and mining demand will require expanding mining operations.
At AFRY we use our engineering skills to accelerate the change towards sustainable mining.
Read the interview with Janne Tikka. Janne leads AFRY Mining & Metals business sector. Janne joined AFRY in 2012 and has some 20 years of experience in the mining and metals industry.