Mining challenges: development and innovation to reduce environmental and social impacts

The mining and metals sectors currently face a period of significant challenges, especially concerning the development and adoption of new technologies to reduce the environmental and social impacts caused by mining and metallurgy.

Among the main structural movements affecting the sector, we highlight the agenda for promoting greater socio-environmental sustainability and the development of a set of new technologies.

Mining and metallurgy activities are known to have a high environmental impact. In the case of mining, the enormous size of some operations, the amount of cargo handled and the tailings generated have represented risks for several regions and populations, possibly affected by accidents and inefficient deposition and monitoring mechanisms. Metallurgy, on the other hand, is one of the most energy-intensive and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions sectors, being a direct target of climate preservation actions worldwide. Both areas are also significant consumers of water.

This set of challenges offers opportunities for companies in these sectors, which must be able to meet the sustainability requirements imposed and develop increasingly efficient operations. In this context, there is a trend towards an increase in technological content in these sectors, traditionally recognized as having low technological intensity.

New technologies are being adopted to optimize, control and automate operations and make new mining and transformation projects viable. Technologies such as big data, 3D printing and new materials have allowed a significant reduction in the development cycle of new products.

Technological and innovation trends for mining and metals

The creation and diffusion of new technologies with greater transversality and application have promoted essential changes in the sectors of mining and metals, traditionally less intensive in technology and knowledge. In the current scenario of diffusion of big data technologies, internet of things, additive manufacturing and new materials, efforts have been made in innovation and development of more efficient production systems and processes. These efforts are based on the German Industrie 4.0 concept and the North American smart manufacturing. The so-called industry 4.0 refers to what would be a fourth industrial revolution, based mainly on the digitization and interconnectivity of the systems and links in the development and production chains. This concept is widely applied in advanced manufacturing, but it is becoming increasingly present in the service sector and the design of smart cities.

Similarly, this development involves greater depth and transversality in the application of information and communication technologies (ICTs), expanding interconnectivity for the various stages of production and supply. The objective is to create mechanisms that allow optimal integrated control of the multiple processes, parameters and inputs along the production chains.

The main areas of research in advanced manufacturing are related to sensors and monitoring, including new methods of measuring data at low cost, analyzing processes in real-time and integrating with control technologies; control and automation systems, with rapid integration between the various production and business mechanisms, and simulation models; digital systems for 3D simulation and visualization, capable of allowing product design and definition of production methods; in addition to digital platforms, standards and communication protocols to support this flow and integration of data, shared between digital and real systems.

The identification of opportunities for applying these concepts and adopting these technologies is part of the development efforts observed today. The mining and metals sectors present great opportunities for gains in productivity and efficiency, especially about the need to reduce risks and socio-environmental impacts.

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