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Geoscience, Physics, Biology & Chemistry: The Key to Sustainable Mining

Social Mobility Foundation Virtual Placement – 4th August 2021


The Critical Minerals Association took part in the Social Mobility Foundation’s Biology and Chemistry Virtual Placement on 4th August 2021. CMA founding members, Minviro and SRK Consulting, introduced 69 Year 12 & S5 students to Geoscience. Read on to discover the relationship between Geoscience / Biology/ Chemistry and how mining and minerals are part of the green energy transition.

“Mining for a green future completed changed my perspective on the importance of mining. We are so used to mining being demonised in the climate change campaign that we forget how necessary it is. The session also made me want to look into Geology.”


- Student Feedback



Ben Lepley, Environmental Consultant, SRK


Ben spent 12 years as a geologist working on mineral exploration and mining projects before turning to the ‘green side’ of ESG. He graduated from Cardiff University in 2008 with an MESci in Geology and is now a Chartered Geologist with the Geological Society of London. Through continued professional development he hopes to become a Chartered Environmentalist.


Presentation: Mining for a Green Future

Why do we need to mine?


The talk discussed the need for (responsible) mining in the modern world, particularly to fuel the green tech revolution. The vast array of metals and minerals used in technology such as solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles and batteries requires a significant quantity of raw materials that cannot be produced by recycling (yet). We also discussed how mining has evolved and is a very different industry to the images in most students’ heads.


Student Survey - How do you feel about mining?


Before the presentations, a survey was provided to the students to gather their understanding of, and feelings on, geoscience, mining and the link to sustainability and green technology. The key findings of the survey (from 40 respondents) are below:


  • Opinions on mining were generally negative and relate to historic images of mining.

  • Mining conjured up words such as coal, caves, pickaxe, gold, coughing, but many also picked up the link with the popular game Minecraft.

  • Students understood the importance of sustainability and had a good handle on the definition. They associated sustainability with words such as renewable energy, protecting the environment, and using resources without impacting future needs.

  • Students were not interested in working in mining. They were (understandably) keen on careers in chemistry, biology, environmental science and sustainability.

  • Students believed the best ways to solve climate change would be to convert to 100% renewable energy, switching to electric cars and recycling. Stopping mining was considered a better option than stopping flying, insulating a house and increasing public transport use.

  • Support for opening a mine in the UK or abroad, even a lithium mine, was very low.


The survey was completed again after the talks with some noticeable changes to the answers (based on 21 responses):

  • Words such as sustainable, resources, useful were now mentioned, though 'negative impacts' still featured

  • More students showed an interest in a career in mining

  • Stopping mining was considered less helpful to solving climate change

  • There was stronger support for opening a lithium mine in the UK but support for a coal mine was almost non-existent

Phoebe Whattoff, Sustainability Analyst, Minviro


Phoebe graduated in 2020 after studying MSci Geology at University of Southampton. She has since joined Minviro as a Sustainability Analyst. She has written and published academic and white papers.

Presentation: Driving Sustainable Mining




What are Life Cycle Assessments and why do they matter?


Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) aim to quantify the global and local environmental impacts related to a product (e.g. nickel) or process (e.g. nickel extraction). LCAs help to understand how mining projects and related processes can affect the world around us. For instance, a car manufacturer producing a brand new battery for its electric vehicle can know exactly the impact the raw materials used in the battery’s manufacture (e.g. lithium, cobalt, nickel) had on the environment. This in turn helps companies to better understand their supply chain and if their end-products are truly sustainable.


Understanding the environmental impact of a product or a process can help companies make conscious decisions to choose better alternatives (such as less energy intensive processes) before capital is committed to a project. In essence, use of LCA data can help businesses make better informed decisions and set-up their projects to be as environmentally-friendly as is feasible.


Careers:


There are many varied careers within the mining and minerals industry, with geoscience and engineering at the core. Studying geoscience and engineering subjects opens many doors across multiple industries and sectors. We need more environmentally-conscious young people to get into the minerals industry to make positive change.


Social Mobility Foundation & Critical Minerals Association

The UK Government Shortage Occupation List's ‘physical scientists' section highlights engineering geologists, hydrogeologists, geophysicist, geoscientists, geologists, geochemists as areas of skills shortages.


Numerous initiatives promote geosciences and raise awareness of the importance that mining has if we are to obtain the minerals (e.g. lithium, cobalt, graphite, copper) necessary for a clean growth agenda.


In solidarity with these initiatives, the Critical Minerals Association has been working with the Social Mobility Foundation – an incredible charity that supports high achieving 16-17 year olds from lower socio-economic backgrounds by working with employers to provide skills sessions, internships, mentorships to young students. They work across 11 sectors: Accountancy, Architecture, Banking & Finance, Biology & Chemistry, Business, Digital, Engineering & Physics, Law, Media & Communications, Medicine, Politics - but there are currently no mining related employers.


The Critical Minerals Association is looking for geoscience supporters - if you’d like to get involved as a geoscience advocate sign up here or contact olimpia@criticalmineral.org.


Article by Olimpia Pilch, Business Development & Communications Associate, Critical Minerals Association

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