The role of gold mining in climate change

Gold production operations are high level energy users. Mining and refining gold processes have high greenhouse emissions per ton of ore compared to other metals. However, the mining processes for coal, steel and aluminium produce more product than gold so newly-mined gold actually produces less emission than most newly mined metals. According to the World Gold Council, gold has the least emission intensity of all mined metals. Gold is also more valuable than most mined metals. When we compare the volume of greenhouse gasses to the spent on gold, it is actually lower than most mined products.


There are a number of gold miners who are actively working towards lowering their carbon emissions and these are some of them:


#1. Borden mine

Borden mine which is owned by Goldcorp has plans to switch from diesel to electricity. Current equipment running on diesel will be replaced Battery Electric Vehicles. Changing to electricity will do more than reduce emissions by at least 7% but it will also improve mine safety and performance. Electricity is three times more efficient than their diesel counterparts. Over a decade, it represents a reduction of almost 70,000 tons of CO2 emission. The decrease in emissions reduces the need for more underground ventilation. Borden in particular, will need 50% less ventilation if the switch from diesel.


#2. Newmont mine

Newmont is another mine making important strides in curbing carbon emissions. The company is looking at increasing renewable energy through self-generation. It has partnered with the Council on Mining & Metals (ICMM) to realise its targets. Newmont’s Boddington’s operation has managed to reduce fuel consumption by 5.2%. Lowering emission by switching fuel is an important component in Newmont’s 2020 coal usage plan at all its plants. Necessity is a great incentive, for example, the company’s Tanami project found itself without critical diesel because it could not be trucked to site because of extreme weather and rain in 2017. As a result, the mine could not produce the expected 8,000 ounces per week and firing production to shut down in February. It became necessary for the mine to find other alternative fuel options that would also reduce the mine’s carbon admissions.


It became necessary an important factor in mitigating the risks that climate change brings. It became necessary for the mine to analyse fuel options whiles reducing carbon emissions. Cost is an important factor. The price of coal is estimated to be $25 at $50 per ton of the carbon dioxide.


Newmont has approved the construction of a 450 km pipeline which will deliver gas to the mine thus ensuring reliable power generation. The switch from diesel fuel to natural gas can reduce carbon emissions by 20%. In addition to reducing diesel usage, Newmont has set a target to reduce its Green House Gases (GHG) emission by 16.5% by the end of 2020.


#3. Barrick Mine

Barrick has a plan to reduce Greenhouse gas emissions by 30% in the next decade. The mine’s current electricity is generated by using renewable energy sources. The gold production company is currently evaluating all their mines and will in future include electric equipment powered by renewable energy sources.


Reducing energy demand might be good for the environment, but it also affects the business side of gold production. Take Barrick’s Hemlo Mine in Canada: The mine developed and installed a ventilation management programme to improve the system and the people within. Optimising underground ventilation systems helped drive energy consumption down. The mine also reduced its heating costs by using the geothermal processes that occur naturally. Energy consumption in terms of ventilation per tonne of ore fell. For this, the Canadian Department awarded the company “The Process and Technology Improvement Award” for 2016.


#4. Kinross

Kinross is constantly reviewing its energy supply matrix in order to identify opportunities to reduce both costs and emissions. Kinross’ Paracatu mining operation in Brazil has acquired two hydroelectric power plants with a capacity to generate 155 MW.


There are lots of things that mining companies can do to reduce fuel consumption and lower emissions. Some include optimising ventilation, optimising haulage, routes as well as retraining truck drivers, reconfiguring piping networks, optimizing the use of compressed air and even plant automation. The main point and driving force is to reduce carbon emissions so the gold industry does not become the largest contributor to Greenhouse gases. So far, everyone is conscious of the role the industry plays in the bigger picture, they just have to find real and sustainable technologies that can be applied successfully.