Ivanhoe shows tech to make mining easier through the energy transition

Ivanhoe Mines’ founder and executive chairperson, Robert Friedland. Photo: file

Ivanhoe Mines’ founder and executive chairperson, Robert Friedland. Photo: file

Published Feb 8, 2024


The use of new mining technology will go a long way to help to meet the massive increase in mineral resources that will be required to meet the global energy transition, and those metals will mostly come from Africa.

This was according to Ivanhoe Mines’ founder and executive chairperson, Robert Friedland, who said at the Mining Indaba in Cape Town yesterday that while Africa had contributed less than 1% to global warming, a young generation of Africans is going to have a crucial role to play in saving humanity from the effects of climate change.

Climate change had already resulted in rising global temperatures and extreme weather events that had, for instance, seen people fainting in car parks in Arizona in the US and then getting second-degree burns from touching the tar of the car park.

Last year was the hottest, globally, in recorded history, and the problem wasn’t going to get better any time soon, he said.

He said Africa suffered disproportionately from climate change, and would require $300–$400 billion in the short term to deal with its effects. He said the world’s most valuable commodity, however, was not a mineral, but water, and already one quarter of the world’s population live in water-stressed situations.

He said their I-Pulse technology, originally developed for mining and which uses electromagnetic pulses to map out underground geography, could now find underground water aquifers with 100% success rate to a depth of 1 500m.

The technology has already been used to develop 1 620 acres (about 655 hectares) of pistachio and almond plantations in the California desert, over land where there previously was no fresh water.

He said this technology would of great use in Africa where large parts of the continent were water stressed, and in the future, it would be “crucial that we combine agriculture with mining”.

He said each 1 degree Celsius increase in global temperatures due to climate change results in a 3% decline in agriculture output globally.

He outlined some of the daunting mineral requirements of the global energy transition. An electric vehicle had six times the mineral requirements of a conventional car, while a wind power turbine uses nine times the minerals of a gas turbine.

An estimated $21 trillion (R397trl) would need to be invested into the global electricity grid to be able to convert to electric vehicles, while 80 million kilometres of grid would need to be replaced. Some 700 million metric tons of copper would need to be produced in the next 22 years.

Friedland said a much higher copper price was required to make it viable to develop “giant copper mines”, and he suggested also that there should be a different price for copper used for dirty industries, and for copper used for climate change related technologies, rather than the current single price.

He said Africa held 30% of the world’s mineral resources, and there were limitations on other resources such as, for example, it was not possible to mine in Russia and Ukraine at present.

“Don’t think for one moment that more than 1% of South Africa’s mineral endowment has been mined,” he said. He said it was also essential that the mining for renewable energy minerals did not result in a new form of colonialism.

A problem was that mining was itself a big generator of dirty greenhouse gas emissions and was responsible for 4.7% these emissions globally.

He said their I-Rox technology, now also with BHP as a shareholder in the technology, uses electromagnetic pulse technology to create a better way to liberate metals from rock.

The process targets tensile weakness in rocks and substantially reduces the time, energy usage and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions currently generated by critical mining activities.

The crushing and grinding of ore is the most energy- and capital-intensive aspect of the mining process.

He said I-Rox effectively pulled the rock apart, separating the mineral with a 5% greater metal recovery than traditional methods, and by using 80% less energy to do the work. It also involved machinery underground, and completely eliminated the traditional ore milling complex above ground.