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Major Global Challenges in Mineral Mining and Metal Production in 2014

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There seems to be a common belief in the World that the Industrial and Mining activities are Environmentally harmful. In 1960s, the Club of Rome in its book Limits to Growth indicated that the Dooms Day for the mankind was within sight as the mineral resources on the Earth were getting exhausted fast limiting the growth in Metal and Mineral industries.  Also fast depletion of Oil and Coal reserve would limit the growth in Energy Production. 50 years have passed since then, but the Industrial activities have increased more than three fold in the World.

Newly found mineral reserves in Brazil, Venezuela, West Indian Islands, Africa, Australia, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Russia and CIS Countries are continuously expanding the mineral base in the World. Regarding Oil and Gas reserve, Sea bed Oil, Sea bed Gas, Coal base Methane, Shell Gas, Sandy Oil reserve in U S, Off shore oil on the eastern coast of U S and Brazil and untapped oil reserve in the arctic areas including Green Land and Iceland are the opportunities for the future. Technology has also improved for commercial gasification of coal.  Discovery of hydrogen fuel along with ceramic fuel cells are likely to offer technological breakthrough.

The real issue is Global Warming is through the increase of GHGs in the atmosphere. Over dependence on Carbon for energy production needs to be restricted progressively. Globally, over 60 % of Electrical energy is produced by using Fossil Fuels, 20 % by using Hydro Power, 18 % by using Nuclear Power and a meager 2 % by using Renewable non-conventional energy sources like Solar, Wind, Biomass, Geo Thermal. Opportunities outside the Fossil Fuel are enormous. World community should seriously concentrate on extensive research on new fuels. 10 years back, U S President, George Bush Jr. set a target for U S to produce over 50 % Energy through non-conventional route by 2020. It may still remain a far cry.

Two third of the World population in Asia and Africa are below world’s poverty line. China, over the last 25 years had made serious efforts in improving the level of industrialization. It has brought itself to the level of second largest economy in the world; only next to U S. India is also making serious efforts to improve the economic status of the country. It is expected that within the next 25 years or so India will be the third largest Economy in the World.

Finally, it will be the opportunity for Africa. Aspiration of the suffering people in Asia and Africa would boost the mining and industrial activities. Developed countries are also shifting their manufacture activities to Asia and Africa to take advantage of low manufacturing cost and proximity to the mineral base. GHG emission will, therefore, increase substantially in Asia and Africa. In the near future, when 8 Billion people on Earth will demand economic comforts of the Developed Countries, who will control the issues of degradation of Environment and Global Warming? The answer is not Regulation but Technology. All of us should come together to find technological solutions to the crying issues of Environment and Global Warming.


The Laws of the Nations should be modified to facilitate mining of Minerals mainly in the Forest and Hilly Areas where the Tribal people normally reside. Over thousands of years, the tribal people have been driven to the hilly areas as the plains were occupied by the “so called” civilized people to set up habitation and agricultural fields. Human habitation and economic activities have grown in the areas closer to the seas and the rivers for the ease of navigation. Continuous flight of the tribal people from the developed areas over the centuries had created an animosity between the two communities; the Haves and the Havenots. We need to address this issue very seriously. The right of land where mineral resources are available under the ground should be given to the Tribal people. They should be properly compensated for their replacement to a better area with facilities of land, water, health, sanitation, education and commerce. Over 1 Million Tribal people in India should be economically settled in developed areas for sharing the fruit of development. This would, hopefully, reduce the conflict between the Tribal and the non-tribal people.

It is imperative that extreme care should be taken in selecting environment friendly technology in mining and land restoration activities in mined areas. Restoration of the landscape in the mined areas, maintaining the original flora and fauna of the area is the real challenge. Pollution of water bodies in the vicinity of mining must be avoided at all cost. In the past, both the displaced Tribal people and the mined areas received very little attention from the commercially exploiting Organizations. The situation has, since then, greatly improved but it deserves further improvement. Economic rehabilitation of the affected people and proper restoration of the mined areas can only reduce the social conflict and human unrest.

Over dependence on Fossil fuels for Power Generation, Heating, Rail, Road & Air Transport system and Reduction of Iron Ore by Carbon are the other major challenges. Scientific community is already aware of the necessary Controls and Alternatives. What they need is to give the finishing touches to all of them. Steel industry is slowly moving into direct reduction of fine particles of Iron ore by Coal instead of Coke. Energy intensive activities like Sintering, Palletizing and Briquetting are slowly getting eliminated. Iron, Steel, Aluminium and Thermal Power industries should seriously examine the economic possibility of Capture and Sequestration of CO2 from their furnaces.

Solar Energy, Wind Energy, Biomass Energy, Geothermal Energy are near reality to-day. Relatively higher initial cost of Power generation from such Renewable sources should be built into the cost of production and effective cost reduction should be achieved through improved productivity and improved product quality through introduction of newer and more efficient technologies. Manpower need in the Industries has already been less than halved through capacity increase in newer units and introduction of highly efficient modern technologies.

Nuclear Power is a great option for energy independence from Carbon. Uranium 235, Plutonium and Thorium in their turn will make India energy reliant. India has the second largest reserve of Thorium mineral in the eastern coast of India. Hydrogen Fuel also has a great opportunity. Ceramic Fuel Cells using Hydrogen fuel are expected to revolutionize the Energy Syndrome.


The Dooms Day for the Human Civilization is too far off. Scientists and the Technologists will find newer answers to the issues of sustainability of our Civilization. Let the Policy Makers in the World rely more on the Scientists and the Technologists than what they had done in the past.  Control by Regulations is necessary but the Regulations should also be changed and modified with new Discoveries and Innovations in the fields of Science and Technology. We have seen the days of Steam Engines, the Days of Aviation Flights, the Days of Telecommunication, the Days of Missiles & Space flights, the Days of Information Technology, the Days of Wireless telecommunication like Mobile phones, and now E-Communication and E-Commerce.


(R N Parbat is currently a Management Consultant. He is a Former Director & Chief Operating Officer of INDAL, a subsidiary of ALCAN, a Former Managing Director of Indal Hydro Extrusions Ltd., a Former Chairman of HIrakud Power Co. Ltd., a Former Chairman of Utkal Alumina International Ltd., a Former President of The Indian Institute of Metals, Founder President of Millennium Institute of Energy and Environment Management. He can be reached at rabi_044707@bsnl.in)


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About RN Parbat

The author is the Former President of The Indian Institute of Metals, Founder President of Millennium Institute of Energy and Environment Management and Former Director & COO of Indian Aluminium Co. Ltd.


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