SUMMARY OF RESULTS: Forum on “Circular Economy in the Mining Sector. Discussing Opportunities Available for Mining Companies”.

On Wednesday, 17th of June 2020, took place the forum on „Circular Economy in the Mining Sector: Opportunities Available for Mining Companies”. The event was held entirely in English, in format of a webinar. Overall, more than 300 people from different countries around the world have joined this activity. The forum is part of the project Eco Mining Concepts, a German-Chilean network for sustainable mining. The network counts with financial support of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi).

Strategic Objectives

The topic of Circular Economy already has been prioritized by the advisory board of the network as one of the guiding topics for the project’s year 2020. The advisory board consists of various government bodies and research institutes in Germany and Chile. Concrete objectives of the seminar were defined as follows:

  • Stimulating an exchange of views and experiences between German and Chilean actors with an interest in sustainable mining and environmental services.
  • Outlining possibilities, innovation approaches and best practice examples for the Chilean mining industry.
  • Driving forward the implementation of circular economy in the Chilean mining sector, to develop sustainable value chains and to generate stimuli for innovation.

Content Summary

After a short welcome by German and Chilean governmental authorities, the keynote speech by Prof. Dr. Michael Braungart initiated the seminar, followed by three further lectures with a subsequent discussion panel.

Keynote speaker Prof. Dr. Michael Braungart is internationally seen as a pioneer in the field of circular economy. As the co-founder of the design concept Cradle to Cradle, he has received several international awards. In his lecture, he suggested to redefine copper in the mining sector as a service product and to thereby generate a higher conformity with principles of circular economy. This concept is based on the idea that countries that are global players in fields of natural resources, such as Chile, do not just sell and export their raw materials, but rather offer the use of this resource as a service. This means that they later on recover the primary raw material through recycling in order not to lose ownership of it and to have steady revenues which can then be used for innovations – also in sustainability issues. Furthermore, with regard to sustainability in the mining sector, Prof. Braungart argues that the focus should not be set on how to minimize environmental damage, but rather on the approach of leaving a “beneficial footprint”. In his eyes, this is the only way to achieve true eco-effectiveness.

Presentation in PDF for participants of the event upon request

Cleve Lightfoot is Head of Innovation at the Australian mining company BHP, representing the perspective of raw material extracting & processing companies. In his presentation, he presented the context to the recently initiated BHP Tailings Challenge as an example of a proactive approach taken by the mining industry. The aim of the challenge is to identify new solutions for the reduction and recycling of industrial waste. The expected final result is a commercially viable solution that allows BHP’s mining operations to repurpose a relevant volume of tailings. The process is set up to develop that solution from a conceptual idea to an actual product or service.

Carlos Rebolledo presented in behalf of EcoMetales, a subsidiary of the state mining company Codelco. He outlined different possibilities & best practices for the recovery of value elements and resources from various residues of the mining process.

Tobias Pinkse and Ana Oellermann were representing the sight of German mining suppliers, speaking behalf of K-UTEC, a member of the Eco Mining Concepts network, and behalf of Schachtbau Nordhausen. Both experts presented best-practice examples in the potash industry in order to activate former mines in underground mining in terms of the circular economy by means of technological possibilities / backfilling methods.

The individual presentations were followed by a discussion panel moderated by Andrés Mitnik, Business Director of the Chilean innovation network Expande. Participants of the panel:

  • Prof. Dr. Michael Braungart, EPEA, Environmental Protection and Encouragement Agency in Hamburg
  • Jorge Cantallopts, Chilean Copper Commission Cochilco
  • Guillermo Gonzalez Caballero, Chilean Ministry of Environment, Office for Circular Economy
  • Carlos Rebolledo, EcoMetales
  • Cleve Lightfoot, BHP

All panelists agreed: Chile is on the right track towards more circular economy in the mining sector. The course has been set and a supporting political framework is developed. The Chilean mining sector only has a promising future if it adapts entirely towards principles of circular economy. To achieve this, private and state companies must and will be innovative, think out of the box and integrate new approaches and ideas.

Evaluation of Results

During the event, different perspectives and approaches from science, politics, mining suppliers and mining companies themselves were presented. This stimulated a further exchange of interests, which was reflected, for example, in the many questions posed to the speakers by the audience.

The overall positive response illustrates the current strong interest in the topic as well as the importance of the innovation component integrated in the topic. Intensified German-Chilean cooperation in this area can help to further unleash innovation and new approaches to solutions and network structures in the future. German supplier companies are a strong, innovative partner with sustainable technologies on the road to more circular economy in Chilean mining.

The content of the speakers’ presentations is their sole responsibility and does not necessarily reflect the position of the German-Chilean Chamber of Commerce & Industry or the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy.

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