Mining for renewables

Mining is a complex topic. People don’t want such nuisances nearby but instead somewhere else, preferably somewhere far away. A NIMBY phenomenon which isn’t about a backyard only but larger region or a whole country. At the same time, we need minerals for our phones and gadgets, not to mention the batteries for electric cars. If this is the case, shouldn’t we accept that mining might as well take place in our territories and demand for sustainable mining practices? The dependency on rare earth materials is making mining also increasingly a geopolitical question.

Interestingly, the fact that renewable energy needs minerals has shifted the image of dirty mining towards mining as a key enabler of energy transition. Meanwhile, the concept of circular economy has fundamentally challenged the identity of mining sector, from quarrying virgin materials to re-mining solutions.

Source: Case Studies – Dirty side of green technology (helsinki.fi)

I have familiarised myself with the topic of sustainable mining in 2021 in two projects: supervising a perspectives report (https://www.vtv.fi/en/publications/perspectives-on-sustainable-mining-in-finland/) and co-leading a collaborative Masters’ course with Pia Bäcklund at the University of Helsinki. It has been an interesting journey into understanding the complexity of the topic. Students did fantastic work which is documented in the blog: Dirty side of green technology – Geographies of Inequalities 2021 (helsinki.fi)

Above is one of the beautiful maps that students made. It illustrates the supply chain of one rare earth material, cobalt, essential for batteries’ production. While the Democratic Republic of Congo is world’s leading producer of raw cobalt, Finland is the second biggest refiner after China, relying heavily in imported cobalt. Picture also quite clearly shows that mining is global business and the Corporate Social Responsibility should include the whole supply chain.