Wants Environmentalists to Champion the Mineral Industry

Professor of Mineral Economy, Magnus Ericsson (left) and Bellona’s Advisor on Industry, Waste and Recycling, Olaf Brastad) agree: Environmentalists should work to promote the mineral industry and mineral understanding. (Photo: Arne F. Finne)
- Environmentalists should parade in support of the mineral industry, says Professor Magnus Ericsson. Norwegian environmental NGO Bellona concurs.


- Environmentalists should parade in support of the mineral industry, says Professor Magnus Ericsson. Norwegian environmental NGO Bellona concurs.

- We need more minerals to bring out the new energy sources. Environmentalist groups who want a transition to new energy sources and at the same time oppose mining or the mineral industry, are literally shooting themselves in the foot, says Professor Ericssson.

Double demand for iron, aluminum, copper

Magnus Ericsson is a well-known person in the mineral industry. He is a specialist in mineral economics at Luleå Technical University in Sweden and is considered a guru in his field.

- I have looked at what it takes, or rather; how much more it takes, of steel, aluminum and copper in the new energy sources in comparison with traditional coal plants. And the figures are enormous.

The demand for traditional metals will be more or less doubled by 2050 on transition to alternative sources of energy. (Source: World Bank Group)
The demand for traditional metals will be more or less doubled by 2050 on transition to alternative sources of energy. (Source: World Bank Group)

- Does not compute

If we start by looking at solar and wind power, and the batteries required for creating this energy, demand will be  doubled by 2050. We are talking about an increase of two to three percent per year in the period until then, and that does not include factors such as electric vehicles etc.

For other metals, the need will multiply even more, Magnus Ericsson emphasizes.

- Rejecting mining does not make sense if at the same time one wants to develop new sources of energy. New energy simply requires more of the traditional metals per kilowatt produced than the traditional coal-fueled power does, he says.

Should parade for mining

- Those who want a transition to renewable energy resources, like solar and wind power, should rather parade for increased mining, Ericsson says. He adds that new mining should be better than it is today, as it uses vast amounts of energy.

- Just look at LKAB, which, I believe, is the biggest energy consumer in all of Sweden, using some five percent of the total Swedish consumption per year. This will be a tremendous job, and it cannot be solved only by using cobalt, lithium and graphite.

These minerals should also be extracted and refined, but that is not so difficult. We are talking rather limited amounts, at least when compared to a doubling of the world’s iron ore production, Magnus Ericsson stresses.

Quarts is a mineral required for the creation of several products, including solar cells and beer. (Source: LNS)
Quarts is a mineral required for the creation of several products, including solar cells and beer. (Source: LNS)

Environmental NGO Bellona agrees

Senior Advisor for Industry, Waste and Recycling at the environmental NGO Bellona, Olaf Brastad, agrees with Ericsson.

- Environmentalists should champion minerals, and understanding of materials. We must increase our understanding of materials, Brastad says, - also to bring people out of poverty. We must produce materials, and materials require minerals. It really isn’t more complicated than that.

Does not come with the stork

We have never had a more complex life when it comes to materials, and at the same time, the level of general understanding of materials is decreasing. People have stopped believing that babies are delivered by the stork, yet they appear to believe that everything else they consume or use comes with the stork, the Bellona advisor says.

During the Geonor 2018 conference in Mo i Rana, Norway last week, CEO Frode Nilsen of Leonhard Nilsen & Sons (LNS) claimed that Norway’s biggest bank – DNB – has stated in writing that it will not engage in the mineral industry. At the same time, the very same bank is going through a massive digitalization of its own operations.

- That is both alarming and upsetting, says Olaf Brastad.

Olaf Brastad of Bellona wants to increase the general understanding of materials. – These products do not come with the stork. (Source: Elkem)
Olaf Brastad of Bellona wants to increase the general understanding of materials. – These products do not come with the stork. (Source: Elkem)

Do not see the consequences

- DNB bank and its CEO Rune Bjerke do not hold credibility here. Rune Bjerke is a leader, he is the front figure of digitalization, however, if he does not want to contribute to funding of the Norwegian mineral industry, he has not fully grasped the consequences of his own digitalization.

It is quite depressing for a man of his caliber to fail so spectacularly. In a worst-case scenario, it stems from his being of the opinion that the materials should be provided from elsewhere, regardless of how and under what conditions they are extracted, Brastad says, emphasizing that how minerals are extracted matters.

The process industry as role model

- What matters for Norway in this context is that we have to create a template for what a sustainable future mineral industry should look like. The mineral industry should copy the processing industry, which more than any other industry has supplied environmental improvements on an on-going basis, Olaf Brastad argues.

- I am not saying that we don’t have a sound industry in Norway, but the industry as a whole should aim for the same ambitious goals as the processing industry. It must imply that we should have the most sustainable and greenest mineral industry in the world.

Yes to minerals, no to deposits?

- The renewed [Norwegian] government declaration says that no permissions shall be granted for seafill deposits during this parliamentary term. However, the government also argues that is has a positive view of the mineral industry. Is this politics that make sense, when the mining industry says seafill deposits are required at a majority of the potential new mines?

- Perhaps it is a political accident that can be corrected or reconsidered. However, if they say not to seafill deposits while at the same time knowing that the mineral industry is needed, politicians must come up with tools that make seafill deposits less of an option. That is where the politics of it all is buried.

Tailings may be a product

In Bellona, we are also dubious about or skeptical of seafill deposits. However, we also know that some tailings constitute a higher pollution risk in landfills than in seafill depositories.

Nevertheless, the goals must be for the tailings from this industry to be developed into a sellable product in the end, that it can be reused somehow.

There is no questioning the demand for raw materials from the mineral industry, and world demand is rapidly increasing. (Source: Achzetet al (2009) og EIT Raw Materials).
There is no questioning the demand for raw materials from the mineral industry, and world demand is rapidly increasing. (Source: Achzetet al (2009) og EIT Raw Materials).

Alternative use – as filling materials?

This is not something the industry can work out on its own. Clear political targets and regulations are required.

- Is this possible, technologically and logistically?

- The truth claiming that seafill deposits is more or less the only viable option on the table is, at best, a truth with modifications. Alternative use of tailings are another option, which Frode Nilsen of LNS has also pointed out. Why not let tailings from Rana Gruber (mines) be used e.g. in the construction of the new airport in Bodø?

Politics must pick up the ball

We also know that there are international demands for our tailings, as filling materials, and we should map it and do something about it. The goal is not a deposit, but to minimalize the need for depositories – and that requires our creating a policy towards that end. The industry cannot do that on its own.

The starting point is really basic; we need the materials. During the Geonor conference, it emerged that each American uses e.g. 335 kg of iron every year, and it is fair to assume that we in Norway use the same amount or even more. And most of the minerals do not go to consumer goods, but are rather meant to last for a long time.

Both, please!

Minerals are to build infrastructure, to be part of energy and environmentally friendly solutions – they simply constitute construction materials. You may build the new governmental houses in Oslo in wood, however, you need stones and iron and concrete in addition. This is not about an either-or situation, but about both, please, says Bellona Advisor Rolf Brastad in closing.






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