CO2 in the mining industry


Mining is no stranger to difficult climates. In fact, a large portion of the industry operates in hostile environments. However, estimates of dangers such as severe rain, drought, and heat indicate that these effects will become more common and extreme, posing greater physical hurdles to mining operations. Keep reading to learn more about the challenges mining companies are faced with in regards to CO2.

What is CO2?

Carbon dioxide is a gas made up of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. Because plants use it to make carbohydrates in a process called photosynthesis, it is one of the most important gases on the planet. Photosynthesis is essential for the existence of life on Earth because humans and animals rely on plants for nourishment.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is also, however, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas that is released by human activities like deforestation and fossil fuel combustion, as well as natural processes like respiration and volcanic eruptions.

Beginning in 1850, human activities have increased CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere by 48 % above pre-industrial levels (source). This is significantly greater than what would have occurred organically during a 20,000-year span (from the Last Glacial Maximum to 1850, from 185 ppm to 280 ppm).

Does mining emit CO2?

Yes, it does. The mining industry requires energy to move and process ore, workers to do the job and all sorts of supplies and equipment placed in remote places. All these activities and inputs use direct or indirect CO2 emitting processes to different extents. 

Strong pricing performance in recent years has resulted in the opening of a considerable number of new mines. Underground mines have lower greenhouse gas footprints than their bigger open pit counterparts because they operate at higher grades and process less material.

CO2 in Gold Mining

Underground mines release less than half the CO2 equivalent of open pit miners for every ounce of gold produced. Trends in gold mine emissions emerge at a local level as well, given that different regions use different mining processes and have varied power sources.

At 0.85 tCO2e and 0.40 tCO2e, respectively, open pit mines generate roughly twice as much CO2 per ounce of gold produced as underground mines. In addition, open pit miners process about five times the amount of ore, with an average grade of around 1.05 g/t Au for the population studied, compared to 3.25 g/t Au for underground mines. Ultimately tonnes of CO2 are being released each day from copper mines, oil tar sands, gold, iron ore, and other natural resources which heavily contribute to the climate risk.

CO2 in Copper Mining 

Copper mining contributes to climate change through both indirect and direct greenhouse gas emissions. Mining, processing as well as transportation require the use of electricity and diesel (or other liquid fuels). Mines also often use steel grinding media which produce GHG emissions during the manufacturing process. 

Energy is a significant operating cost (between 25% and 35% of the industry’s total operating costs) for mines and the main source of GHG emissions. Fuel is mainly used for the movement of ore and waste rock from pits whereas electricity is leveraged for operating flotation machines, crushing and grinding, pumping water and slurries, electrowinning copper metal for oxide ores, etc.  

A large open pit copper mine can use around 200,000 L / d of diesel with an emission factor of around 2.7 kg CO2 e / L. This is equivalent to 200,000 t CO2 e / y of emissions for about 2 – 4 t CO2e / t Cu produced (source). 

Overall, GHG emissions associated with primary mineral and metal production is estimated to be equivalent to around 10 % of  the total global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions in 2018. As for copper mining, electricity consumption increased by 32 % per unit of mined copper in Chile while fuel fuel consumption increased by 130% in Chile from 2001 to 2017, which was largely due to decreasing ore grade (source).

How much CO2 does mining release in Canada and Chile?

Canada is the tenth-highest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. It has been hesitant to adopt new sources of low-carbon energy and reduce its mining emissions, despite having a huge network of hydroelectric dams and nuclear facilities that provide the majority of its power.

The mining of Alberta’s oil sands deposits, as well as government support for pipelines to transfer their products across the country, has sparked outrage among environmental and Indigenous groups. Canada’s greatest emitting sector is oil and gas production.

Canada is the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, with oil sands accounting for 96 % of its proved reserves. The oil and gas industry is Canada’s most polluting sector, with substantial upstream emissions from energy-intensive mining activities. According to government emissions data, Canadian mining was responsible for 195MtCO2e in 2017, around the same as Malaysia’s total.

Oil sands not only emit more greenhouse gases than traditional crude oil, but they also destroy forests and peatlands in the process of extraction. However, since 2000, emissions per barrel of oil sands products have fallen by 28%, according to Natural Resources Canada.

As for Chile, it is the 44th highest emitter of greenhouse gas in the world (source). The copper mining industry in Chile emitted over six million metric tons of CO2 in 2018, which represents an increase of 5.98 million tons when compared to the previous year. 

During 2019, Greenhouse Gases (GHG) emissions from the copper mining industry were recorded for a total of 16,366 thousand tons of CO2 equivalent distributed in 6,252 thousand by direct GHG (38.2% of total emissions from copper mining) and 10,114 thousand by indirect GHG (61.8% of the total).

The country’s power sector remains largely dominated by oil and coal. To this day , Chile is still dependent on these two imported fossil fuels even though they have ample renewable energy resources. This dependency explains why electricity prices are so volatile and why they are some of the highest in the south american continent. 

However, Chile has committed to peaking its greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and then decreasing emissions to emit a maximum of 95 million tonnes of greenhouse gases by 2030. These emission goals are part of a long-term plan to reach GHG neutrality by 2050. The country plans to phase out coal power, expand forests and promote the use of electric vehicles to reach its goal of carbon neutrality. 

What percentage of CO2 emissions comes from the mining industry?

According to a report by the Carbon Disclosure Project, 50 businesses in the heavy fossil fuel industries, including 20 mining companies, accounted for half of worldwide industrial greenhouse gas emissions in 2015.

Mining presently accounts for 4% to 7% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The sector’s Scope 1 and Scope 2 CO2 emissions from mining operations and electricity consumption total 1%, while fugitive-methane emissions from coal mining are estimated to represent 3 to 6%. 1 Scope 3 (indirect) emissions, which include coal combustion, account for a considerable portion of global emissions (28 %).

How mining can decarbonize

Any meaningful effort to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement would necessitate a significant contribution from the whole value chain. To stay on pace for a worldwide 2°C scenario, all sectors would have to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2010 levels. A reduction of at least 85% would be required to keep warming below 1.5°C. 

Here are some different ways the mining industry can decarbonize

  • Utilise artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to improve the rate of success to find mineral deposits
  • Advanced gravity gradiometer systems to assist in detection and geological mapping capabilities for mineral commodities and deposit styles
  • Drill alignment systems to increase the accuracy of drill hole alignment and optimize ore recovery and ore body detection
  • Soil stabilization solutions
  • The integration of geological and mine planning inputs to analyze scenario options
  • LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging capabilities)
  • Dust suppression solutions 
  • Mine plan optimization to optimize mine design and therefore reduce future hauling distances and material movement
  • Autonomous drone technologies to optimize exploration surveillance and remote operations
  • Satellite-Based augmentation systems (SBAS)
  • Core scan technologies
  • Minerals 4D modelling to predict the distribution and understanding of orebody
  • Etc. 

How can ABC Dust help mines decarbonize their process?

ABCDust smart dust control solutions and soil stabilization solutions help mine sites lower their C02 footprint by:

  • Reducing water used for dust control by 90%, which translates in less water truck hours and energy consumption to move and process water. 
  • Improving road rolling resistance with our soil stabilization and dust control solutions. Rolling resistance is the energy lost from drag and friction of a tire rolling over a surface. A 10% reduction in rolling resistance would improve fuel economy approximately 3% to 5% for light- and heavy-duty vehicles  and improve your tyres life cycle by up to 5%.  Open pit mines use off-road haul trucks which use 50 liters of diesel per hour on average. Large mines have a fleet of 70 to 150 haul trucks operating 24/7/365. This can add up to 300.000 liters diesel consumption C02 emission reduction per year, plus the saving on fuel per se. 
  • Increasing the useful life of mining roads, reducing the frequency of necessary leveling and re-profiling. Also, reducing the need for material loans to improve road properties.
  • Increasing the useful life of tires and haulage trucks. A better, dust-free road wears less tires, and increases the life of haul truck suspension systems and filters.

ABCDust smart dust control and soil stabilization 

H3: Dust Suppression

DMS high-performance dust suppression solutions and soil stabilizers were created by combining:

  • DMS® high-performance dust suppression solutions 
  • Soil stabilizers with electronically controlled irrigation equipment
  • Georeferenced dust and road friction monitoring systems
  • Roughness georeferenced monitoring systems. 

As a result, a completely new dust suppression technology was created and a patent application was generated. Our products are delivered precisely when and where they are required, resulting in greater productivity, long-term sustainability, and safety. Dust suppression, enhanced soil stabilization, water conservation, shorter braking distances, and low maintenance costs are all features of DMS products. 

The following DMS® vehicles are available to help with dust reduction:

  • DMS-DS: Control of dust on roadways. The DMS-DS® dust suppressor is suitable for mining routes, haul highways, and high mountains, and can handle up to 600 tonnes of freight.
  • DMS-EB: The DMS-EB® is a green vehicle that traps particles and enhances road and soil stability.
  • DMS-DS 80: This is a low-cost dust suppressor and soil stabilizer that is also chloride-free and healthy for the environment. It grows well in a variety of soils, though silty, low-water-retention soils produce higher yields.
  • DMS-TDS: This is a non-ionic dust suppressor designed for continuous belt lines on loading fronts and/or high-frequency material transport systems.

Using ABCDust’s products and services, you can achieve a dust reduction of 95 to 99 percent, thereby saving lives, improving the environment, saving money and ensuring your operational continuity and social licence. Feel free to contact us for more information.

Soil Stabilization

We use soil stabilization solutions to improve many types of roads and sites across different industries such as mining, forestry, and construction in Canada, Chile, Peru, and Colombia. Our solutions strengthen the soil and allow it to withstand more pressure and capacity of heavy vehicles, thereby improving the logistics of the sites.

We offer a large variety of products (enzymes, polymers, synthetic oils, and asphalt emulsions) which have been formulated to meet different road needs and reduce the need for aggregates and road maintenance. Our soil stabilization products selection is very cost-effective, environmentally safe and non-toxic. 

Here are some of our soil stabilization solutions

  • DMS-DS® 100 is specially designed for soil stabilization and dust control of industrial roads, haul road and well-compacted surfaces, improving its overall strength and road materials agglutination.
  • EZISS PRO® is a soil stabilization natural liquid enzyme, which improves the properties of native/local soils.
  • CHEM-STAB® is a sulphonated chemical-based (ionic) soil stabilizer, formulated with ionizing complexes associated with ion exchange elements.
  • SOILCELLS® are high-density polyethylene panels used for soil containment. The three-dimensional structure of the cells allows to confine the granular material and thus avoid any displacement caused by erosion or static or dynamic loads. This versatile material can be used for slope retention, soil reinforcement and road infrastructure and as a retaining wall.

Dust Monitoring

Because of the nature of size reduction and segregation processes, blasting, transporting, grinding, and crushing minerals are the primary contributors of dust in the air. Workers, the environment, and nearby wildlife are all affected by this dust.

ABCDust provides a dust-monitoring service to its clients that employs EPA near-reference PM10-2.5 measurement technology to give a consistent assessment of dust levels in a variety of environmental circumstances and mining production levels (Ton/h). To assess PM10-2.5 dust levels created by mining operations, we employ dust management methods.

Here are some of the features of our dust monitoring solution:

  • For PM 10, 5, 4, 2.5, and 1 particles, multichannel dust levels up to 4,000 mg/m3 are continually monitored.
  • Gravimetric samples are used to describe and quantify mg/m3 dust emissions.
  • Modeling of dust emissions using a variety of parameters (winds, humidity, production, type of material, etc.).
  • Solutions for dust control are suggested (maintenance, dry, fine mist, dust collectors, additives, etc.).
  • Before and after deployment, improvement options are reviewed.
  • Report on emissions both before and after the measure is implemented.

Rehabilitating Mining Sites

Many current mining practices produce considerable environmental damage, such as removing the topsoil layer required for plant growth and elevating soil and water acidity, rendering the area hostile to new flora and prone to soil erosion. When a mining business has packed up and left, the erosion can often persist for years.

As a result, many old mine sites are now unproductive, useless by landowners, and nearly hostile to plant and animal life. However, the harm isn’t always irreversible. Companies can utilize a variety of land rehabilitation strategies to repurpose mined land or accelerate the land’s natural regeneration.

Eco-Friendly Equipment

Mining businesses that seek to lessen their environmental impact can upgrade to more environmentally friendly machinery, renewable energy uses, and find renewable sources of natural resources. Battery-powered mining equipment can often outperform diesel-powered alternatives. Mining enterprises can cut CO2 emissions by replacing diesel engines with electric engines whenever possible.

In general, the mining industry is shifting toward electric equipment, with an increasing number of mining businesses offering environmentally friendly solutions. Some companies are making more significant commitments, such as Epiroc, a Swedish mining equipment manufacturer that wants to go 100% electric in the next few years. A campaign for mining corporations to use only electric mining equipment may potentially result in substantial carbon reductions.

Businesses that aim to be more sustainable should upgrade to more advanced, robust equipment that lasts longer, lowering machine turnover and resource requirements. Improved durability can assist reduce the environmental costs of broken equipment, such as the rubber or plastic that is shed when something breaks. Simple changes, such as switching to tires that give better longevity and ROI in rock-strewn situations, can reduce equipment expenses over time while also reducing the amount of rubber and plastic used.