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By  Jane Nicholls 11 June 2024 8 min read

Key points

  • The latest editions of the independent State of Play reports on the worldwide mining industry have been released.
  • The mining industry is at a critical point as it tries to supply minerals for the energy transition, while also needing to reduce its carbon footprint.
  • The reports, based on data and interviews, look at changes to attitudes and practices around mineral resources.

Mining is at a critical crossroads. The industry must supply more minerals and metals for the energy transition while simultaneously reducing the carbon footprint across its processes. It also must address negative public perceptions of its operations.

Mining Strategy in a Changing World and Unearthing Tomorrow – trends shaping the future of mining are reports from global resources research group State of Play. They draw on hundreds of surveys and interviews with leaders to provide analysis from their insights. They also include independent studies that delve into these complex challenges. 

The State of Play: Mining strategy in a changing world report unpacks the mining industry transformation.

State of Play has been producing mining-industry research since 2012. We sponsored both the 2021 and 2023 reports.

Dr Sandra Occhipinti is our Discovery Research Director.

“These are independent reports based on both data and interviews. They look at changing attitudes and practices connected to mineral resources, including around the environment, the economy, geopolitical issues,” Sandra says. 

“It’s important for us to understand what others are thinking and to support a platform that independently translates that thinking into something tangible for us to better understand what we have to do in the future.”

More than 720 miners from 50 countries were interviewed for The State of Play trends report.

Government industry growth centre METS Ignited has invested in the biennial State of Play reports since 2017. They value the deep insights from people in mining and its adjacent industries.

Adrian Beer was the long-time CEO of METS Ignited before the initiative wrapped late last year.

“These are unique reports where the industry itself presents its challenges, so it’s really grounded in reality,” he says.  

“That’s what makes them so powerful compared to a lot of the other macroeconomic analysis.”

Even the sector itself grapples with assembling a holistic view, perhaps in part because of the breadth of its operations.

Graeme Stanway is the founder and chairman of State of Play of the original inspiration for the reports.

“There’s a big gap in understanding of strategic innovation in heavy industry. Most analysis refers to industries where the focus is speed and lower capital, and are not as connected with the community,” Graeme says.

“That’s quite a different dynamic to resources.”

The energy transition's complex power play

Between the 2021 strategy and the new report, there's been a remarkable shift in sentiment around energy.   

“In terms of external drivers of strategy, in recent years the survey results were pretty evenly split between environmental pressures and technology. Now, energy is the dominant force,” Graeme says.

The strategy report survey asked which global trends will have the biggest impact on innovation over the next 15 years. An overwhelming 71 per cent of respondents nominated the energy transition, up from 54 per cent in 2021. Environmental pressures came in at 53 per cent and technological change at 60 per cent, both down from 2021. 

The graph shows the results to the question: Which of the following global trends will have the biggest impact on innovation over the next 15 years. The results compare answers from 2017, 2019, 2021 and 2023. The results are for questions to: ageing population, Asian economic development, energy transition, environmental pressures, geopolitical tensions, globalisation, government and regulation, technological change, transparency and social expectations, workforce demographics. 
The survey asked which global trends will have the biggest impact on innovation over the next 15 years.

“There’s been a steady shift in climate change and the energy transition being major drivers that industry insiders are predicting will influence mining into the future,” Sandra says. 

“The energy transition wasn’t even in the survey for the 2017 report. Then from 2019 to 2023 you can draw a straight line up as people respond that it will have the biggest impact on innovation."

“The latest reports bring into sharper clarity the complexity of the challenge around energy and how it’s impacting mining as a key supplier to the clean-energy transition,” says Adrian.

Revolution not evolution

“This transition is a revolution, not evolution, for our industry. The industry has been renowned for optimising efficiency and productivity and squeezing every last drop out of resources,” Adrian says.

“That’s how innovation has evolved for decades, but you can’t optimise your way to a clean energy transition. It requires fundamental change. You can’t just flick a switch to turn off existing mining operations which now need to produce more to supply the materials needed for that transition.”

The transition needs more than just critical minerals.

“There are a whole lot of existing metals and minerals that we will require in greater volumes, too,” Adrian says.

“We need to produce more of them than we are currently capable of producing. We need to produce them differently to the way we currently produce them. We also need to use different energy sources to power the processes we use to extract, recover, process and supply those minerals.

"All of those things need to change simultaneously.”

The mining industry needs to implement new low-emissions processes and energy sources, but cost is still a factor.

Will we see a green premium?

New mines are needed for the energy transition. Meanwhile, existing developments face increasing community expectations and higher bars for a social licence to operate.

“The reports highlight the gap in understanding the significance of what the current mining industry does. Scrutiny often focuses on symptoms, not the problem. It’s really easy to bash up mining because of the sector’s emissions,” Adrian says.

At the same time as the industry needs to implement new low-emissions processes and energy sources, the age-old cost drivers remain.

“We’re at a crossroads because if something costs more to produce, at the end of the day most people can’t afford to buy that car or battery or whatever it is that has been produced from mining,” Sandra says.

“It’s not just about supply and demand anymore – it’s the cost of bringing emissions down and shortening discovery timeframes, but it’s a very delicate balance. We’re on a tightrope.”

The high wire being walked is whether there is a critical mass of customers willing or able to pay a premium for ‘green’ products, with ethical supply chains playing in parallel. 

Two men installing solar panels
The mining industry is supplying minerals and metals to support the energy transition, while trying to reduce its carbon footprint.

“I just don’t see that happening,” Sandra says.

Graeme agrees. “There’s a lot of scepticism about the green premium,” he says.

“When a consumer of a product is five or six steps away from the process or the provenance, it gets harder.”

That said, all three believe mining companies will benefit from more transparent communication and engagement. This includes with local communities directly impacted by their operations and the broader population of end consumers.

“There are issues around the places we need to explore and mine and also the people we want to attract into the industry – we are all part of the community,” Sandra says.

“If you don’t have positive community attitudes, you’re not going to attract the people you want to come and work in the industry. You’re going to face disruption via protests and lose your social licence to operate. These reports show that the industry is showing an increased understanding that we need to be better at communicating what we’re doing, why we're doing it and how.”

It’s clear that even acknowledging cost pressures, social licence is more critical than ever. The CEO of a research organisation is quoted anonymously in the strategy report:

“Whoever can find a way whereby we can deliver exceptional returns to investors in a way that’s acceptable to a broader community – that’s what’s going to win.”

Key takeaways

The State of Play reports cover multiple issues in depth and are free to access and download to discover more detail around trends, sentiments, and strategies. Sandra, Adrian and Graeme offer some personal observations: 

The future of discovery: Dr Sandra Occhipinti

“CSIRO’s strategy is to solve the greatest challenges through innovative science and technology and this leans into the provision of technology and methodologies to work towards our sustainable energy and resources challenges.

We need more efficient ways to find ore bodies and extract their value and that is driving our research portfolio. We need to extract value from smaller and smaller deposits, and we might ultimately need to go to no-waste mining, because otherwise it might not be worth extracting anything. That means no tailings, everything you disturb is used for something in one way or another. It’s nose to tail for the mining industry.” 

A new model for commercialising research: Adrian Beer

“There is a fantastic opportunity for Australia. CSIRO has been working for decades on everything from fundamental research all the way through to applied research to solve these challenges for the end-market. We have one of the largest inventories of research of any country in the world. All the ingredients are ready and waiting, we need to urgently capitalise on this.

For commercialisation we must now focus on the middle. We need to focus on the translation of research outcomes into solutions. The industry demand is large enough to encourage innovators to supply, but no one organisation can do it on their own. Without aggregation, individual solutions for each different mining company become bespoke.

The industry as a whole can’t benefit – no one can afford the cost of R&D. The Electric Mine Consortium is an example of aggregation – they put leading mining companies in a room and asked them if you could solve one thing, what would it be? From that, focus areas were developed – surface haulage, underground mining, energy storage and so on – so the vendors and the researchers can focus on those, and they now have 40 ongoing trials across 15 sites.”

Blind spot warnings: Graeme Stanway

“The survey asks about driving forces of innovation and Asian economic development continues to fall lower as an expectation.

In 2017, 30 per cent of survey respondents nominated Asian economic development. For the 2023 report it was just 7 per cent. There’s a blind spot there when you consider where most batteries are made, manufacturing, middle-class growth, and ownership of the critical minerals value chain across Indonesia, Korea, Taiwan, and China.

Another incongruence is where mining businesses are prepared to accept risk to create value. Number 10 out of 10 is asset design – it’s last on the list. But most of the innovations in mining around energy require asset changes, so there's an incongruence in that.”

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