Governments and companies are thinking about using materials from old mines (Remining) to get valuable things out of them. They use the leftover waste from the mines to find minerals, metals, or other things that they can sell and make money from.
The demand for renewable energy metals is expected to increase by 2040, but the specific metals in demand will depend on climate change policies and technological advancements. However, chromium, copper, lithium, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, rare earth elements, titanium, and lithium are all predicted to see increasing demand for solar PV, wind, concentrating solar, and geothermal energy.
The main way metals are obtained is through mining. However, there is growing interest in remining as a potential solution to meet metal demands while reducing environmental damage.
Earthworks and Transport & Environment (T&E) recently gave a joint presentation about finding and using metals for renewable energy. They talked about the good things and the problems that can come up when we try to get these metals.
Remining sources include tailings, waste rock, acid mine drainage and associated treatment sludges, byproducts from ore processing, and coal ash. The most common mine waste with remining potential for renewable energy metals is tailings. The Global Tailings Review estimates there are 8,500 active, inactive, and closed tailings storage facilities worldwide.
Preliminary data also shows promising potential: in Europe for example remined cobalt could power more than 185,000 EVs. However, significant knowledge gaps remain regarding the availability of metals at mine waste sites.
Because remining does not require blasting or extraction of ore from the earth and because some remined materials are partially processed, it uses less energy and has lower greenhouse gas emissions than virgin extraction for the same amount of product.
However, remining also poses various risks such as the reactivation of pollution, potential failures of tailings dams, the avoidance of mine reclamation, the reopening of metal smelters, and the generation of a significant amount of waste.
Indigenous and peasant communities are especially at risk due to the proximity of renewable energy extraction projects to their lands and the potential harm to cultural and spiritual sites.
There is a lack of information on the positive and negative effects of remining on the environment, ecosystems, communities, and workers. As remining becomes more prevalent, it is important to fill this data gap.
Reference- Transport & Environment, BBC, The Guardian, Earthworks