Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas
Tiny Mines: Filling the Gap for the World’s Critical Minerals
BHP reports that the world needs two times as much copper over the next 30 years as the past 30 years, four times as much nickel and two times as much steel. The demand for critical minerals is ballooning, but the mining industry is not keeping pace with demand.
Current mines are going deeper, deposit grades are decreasing, access to capital is getting more difficult, production costs are increasing, and environmental and social concerns are growing, delaying further both developing and producing mines alike.
While there have been advances in exploration, improved efficiency in ore extraction and innovations in mineral processing, the future supply gap still persists.
So how can we meet present and future demand with little time and capital?
“Tiny Mines” to the rescue
While investors, miners and engineers speak of big deposits and large-scale mining, it is becoming clear that this alone will not satisfy global demands.
Mining is capital-intensive business and takes a long time from conceptual studies to discovery; from permitting to actual production that can take as long as 10-15 years, others it can be longer.
Smaller deposits are less attractive for investors, exploration geologists and mine developers as they tend to be looking for “world-class” deposits that can achieve economies of scale.
However, Common Good Mining, a Canadian company, believes in the opportunity to develop smaller deposits with economic grades more sustainably, using modular mining.
This approach uses modular construction, innovative development methods, and incorporating circular economy designs. They call this concept “tiny mines”.
In addition to environmental benefits (smaller environmental footprints), this process could also deliver metals to market faster with lesser development period, and with lower capital expenditures.
Their approach also emphasizes the role of community governance to advance projects that wouldn’t ordinarily be developed due to small size or social complexity.
Modular and Mobile Mines
Modular and mobile mines are described as this innovative method of mining as “switch on – switch off” (SOSO). This incorporates technological innovations in mining equipment design and mine planning. It greatly reduces the amount of time and work on feasibility studies and improves the quality of extracted material.
There is a huge opportunity in modular mining considering there are many small deposits worldwide.
Here are the top reasons why modular mining is worth the investment
- Time to Market: Opportunity for reduced permitting times, as it is not a conventional mining production (small footprint)
- Faster Payout: Relatively quick faster return on investment, due to shortened feasibility, construction and development
- Lower Costs: Lesser capital requirement for small deposits and smaller duration mininig
- Better Environmental Performance: less rock volume means lower energy and water consumption in processing
- Less Disturbance: reduced environmental footprint as it is space efficient
- Unlock additional supply of critical minerals: smaller deposits deemed uneconomic by large-scale business models can contribute into the supply-demand gap
- Phased Development: tiny mining offers an agile approach to larger-scale development that can solve issues at a small scale to save money and time at a larger scale