The sector of mining and metals currently faces a period of great challenges, mainly referring to the development and adoption of new technologies to reduce environmental and social impacts caused by its activity.
The activities of mining and metallurgy are of high environmental impact. In the case of mining, the size of certain operations, the quantity of load moved and the rejects generated represent risks for several regions and populations, possibly affected by accidents and inefficient mechanisms of depositing and monitoring. While the metallurgy sector is one of the most intensive in the consumption of energy and emission of greenhouse gas, being the direct target of actions of conservation of climate throughout the world. The two activities also consume large amounts of water.
This set of challenges offers opportunities to companies of this sector, which must be capable of fulfilling the requirements of sustainability imposed and developing increasingly efficient operations. This sector which is known for the low adoption of technology is obliged to invest in solutions to improve its performance.
Renewable sources of energy, for example wind, biomass and solar energy, have been more developed, meaning that the relative cost of energy generation of such sources has been reduced in recent years. Although the cost of adopting more sustainable processes is high, they begin to be increasingly employed by companies, to reduce the impact on the environment. Generally speaking, the concern with the management of the energy used is important in this sector, not only for social and environmental purposes, but also to improve productivity and profitability.
Systems and processes
In the current scenario of transmission of technologies of big data, Internet of Things, additive manufacturing and new materials, efforts have been employed in innovating and developing more efficient production systems and processes. These efforts have as reference the concept of industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing. Concepts which are mainly based on digitization and interconnectivity of systems and links of production and development chains. This concept is widely employed in advanced manufacturing.
Likewise, this development involves greater deepening and transversality of the application of communication and information technologies, increasing interconnectivity for the various stages of production and supply. The aim is to create mechanisms which allow total and integrated control of the various processes, parameters and product resources along the production chains.
Other areas of study in advanced manufacturing also include sensors and monitoring, new methods of data measurement at low cost, analysis of processes in real time and integration with control technologies. We can also mention the systems of control and automation, with quick integration between the various mechanisms of production and business, and models of simulation, the digital systems for simulation and 3D viewing, capable of allowing product design and definition of production methods, besides digital platforms, standards and protocols of communication to handle this flow and integration of data, shared between digital and real systems.
Waste and risks
The schedule of the mining sector shall mainly handle solutions to minimize the volume of material moved from the mine and effluents not made use of, the consumption of water, the risks arising from the processes of processing and depositing of rejects, and the impacts of the mine. Another item is to increase the levels of benefits and social satisfaction arising from mining operations, with processes of closing the miner and re-enabling degraded areas.
In this respect, the sector is undergoing a cycle of investment in R&D and transmission of technologies and processes, focusing on:
- The increase of recovery of ore of interest and in making use of and agglomerating fine and ultrafine;
- The recovery and reuse of residue and scattered element, including processes for alternative allocation of use;
- Technologies of low environmental risk for depositing residue;
- The recovery and reuse of water employed in the processes, or even on the reduction or elimination of the requirement of using this water;
- The monitoring and control of dams and environmental risks.
Reduction of gas emission
The mineral transformation of metallic items, generally speaking, starts with an oxide which will undergo a process of oxireduction (reaction which releases a great quantity of CO2), to obtain the primary metal. This means that the metallurgic sector is one of the largest industrial emitters of greenhouse gas (GHG).
The greatest efforts for furthering sustainability are exactly related to the reduction of consumption and recovery of energy and gases of the production processes. In metallurgy, there are opportunities for recovering gases or heat of process in all stages of production. Furthermore, the development of production technologies has also generated opportunities related to the supply of furnaces and the control and automation of flows of product resources and products, also aiming to provide greater continuity and integration of processes and avoid energy losses between production stages.
Some examples of technologies and processes furthering energy efficiency are:
- technology of heat recovery in the various production stages
- systems for control in real time of variables of processes, such as the temperature
- making use of process gases
- new technologies which further a significant reduction in energy consumption in electric furnaces and electrolytic processes, including the respective systems of automation and control.
Among all these techniques and technologies concerned with energy, environmental and social enhancement, one of them often does not receive due attention, and can end up jeopardizing millionaire investments. Indicators, risks, procedures, resources, processes and legislation need to be administered in an integrated way. And this would be a practically impossible task without the use of technology: a software solution to improve governance and organizational performance, which is aligned with the sector of mining and metallurgy.
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