Presentation given at the 19th Australian Mineral Sands Conference, Perth, March 2018
This presentation assesses three broad, global trends and their high-level impact on mining and exploration, with some further specific thoughts on mineral sands. These three trends are:
- Globalisation and sustainable development
- The ‘tech boom’ and disruptive innovation
- Climate change and the energy transition
Globalisation and sustainable development
- Over the longer term, as society grows wealthier, the public’s desire for sustainable development and a more habitable environment seems only likely to increase. The minerals industry will have to rise to this challenge.
- Given that mineral sand deposits are surficial, exploration and extraction at depth and ‘under cover’ are less viable options. Thus mineral sands miners are forced more than other miners to move ‘abroad’ making social licence to operate a far more important issue.
The ‘tech boom’ and disruptive innovation
- Historically the mining industry is a slow and cautious innovator.
- The incremental improvements from technology that are likely to impact the mining sector are well-known – big data, automation, remote operation, drones, etc.
- With regard to major advancements, it is less clear where the more radical innovations will come from. Notwithstanding this, four possible sources of new ideas include biotechnology, digital technology, nanotechnology and brain science.
Climate change and the energy transition
- Whilst the minerals sands sector (titanium and zirconium) does not appear exposed to the demand changes that are affecting the likes of lithium, cobalt and graphite; it will be impacted by the renewable energy transition on the supply side.
- One potential game-changer for the mineral sand industry would be a new way of making low cost titanium metal. This would open up new markets in high-strength / low-weight applications in transport.