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FutureSmart™ — Imagining the future of energy

“Imagine free energy, as much as you want — but only for 8 hours a day!” This was one of the many thought-provoking statements at Anglo American’s fourth FutureSmart™ Technology Open Forum, focused on energy. Phil Newman — Head of Technology Development, Sustainability — revisits the highlights.

FutureSmart™ Open Forums is an open innovation platform that brings together experts from academia, the mining industry and other industries, to address global issues related to operational efficiency, energy, water and safety in the pursuit of more sustainable mining practices.

Innovation and thought leadership begins by changing the conversation. Between December 12th and 14th, more than 50 delegates came together in Johannesburg to do just that. The delegates participated in discussion and ideation at Anglo American’s Centre for Experiential Learning, delivering cross-industry perspectives and burgeoning business relationships from which to examine energy-related industry challenges and develop sustainable solutions.

Delegates from both Anglo American’s traditional supplier base and adjacent industries were represented, drawn from more than a dozen countries.  They included power companies, entrepreneurs from the hydrogen economy, future interstellar miners, renewable experts and representatives from the world of finance and government.

Creating new opportunities

The Forum noted that the cost of renewables is falling dramatically, driven by innovation, wide-scale adoption and strong competition.  The exponential pace of technological development is creating new opportunities for real cost savings and significant carbon footprint reduction.

A surprisingly wide range of renewables was discussed, including thermal solar and biomass, raising the possibility of fundamentally changing the way we approach the mining process. Biomass in particular — the ability to generate power from waste, while closing the loop with water, power and fertiliser — is an attractive area to explore.

Despite the wide range of topics discussed, a number of common themes emerged. For example, the need for robust, low-cost pervasive sensing of physical and chemical attributes — such as flow rate, temperature and density — was a topic raised at all our previous FutureSmart™ forums (Water, Processing and Mining). 

By working with our colleagues across the Group and our new partners from the Energy Open Forum, we will be able to incorporate some of the energy projects directly into our current innovation project portfolio. These research projects came on-stream on the back of last year’s Open Forums and give momentum to our FutureSmart™ innovation programme — as well as to the growing wave of innovation sweeping across the industry.

The ultimate goal of FutureSmart™ is to transform the way we think about mining, through a step change value uplift and reduction of our physical environmental footprint, propelling us into the next phase of mining evolution. The conversations generated at the energy Open Forum are helping us move in the right direction.

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