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Innovating sustainability: Addressing environmental challenges in the global copper industry

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As the demand for copper surges to meet the needs of the global energy transition, the industry faces a pressing environmental dilemma. Despite the imperative to scale up production, traditional methods are becoming less efficient and more resource-intensive, exacerbating environmental impacts.

Grades are declining, and the extraction of copper is becoming more challenging, resulting in increased energy and water consumption, as well as higher volumes of tailings. Moreover, the industry’s carbon footprint remains substantial, contributing to climate change. Addressing these challenges requires a paradigm shift towards more sustainable and efficient practices.

Promising innovations in sorting, grinding, flotation, leaching, and filtering offer potential solutions to improve the efficiency and sustainability of copper production. However, there remains a gap between laboratory development and real-world implementation. Bridging this divide will require expertise in engineering and delivery to deploy these technologies effectively in operational mines.

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Furthermore, the industry’s conservative nature has hindered the adoption of new technologies, with many processes still reliant on outdated methods. Embracing a holistic, ecosystem approach that integrates various innovations across the production process is essential for driving economic and environmental efficiencies.

For example, combining dry storage systems with water desalination plants can reduce water consumption and create more sustainable water sources. Similarly, advancements such as vertical roller mills and ‘copper sponge’ materials offer significant energy and water savings, as well as improved concentrate grades.

Worley’s involvement in initiatives to optimize copper recovery and energy efficiency underscores the importance of collaborative planning and early-stage integration of new technologies. By leveraging engineering expertise and adopting an ecosystem approach, the industry can accelerate the adoption of sustainable innovations and increase copper production while minimizing environmental impact.

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