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Open Forums: Imagining the Future of Water

As water and environmental experts gather in Stockholm this week for the 25th annual World Water Week, Anglo American’s Head of Open Forums, Phil Newman, discusses some of the ideas from our first “Open Forum” on sustainability.

The world needs water. By 2030, the global population is expected to reach 8.5 billion and the human race could face a 40% water shortfall. With more than 70% of our mining operations in water stressed areas, how will Anglo American adapt to this changing reality and how can we best work with other water users, across all industries and with the communities around us?

We could make water. Far-fetched as it may sound, humans have access to all the ingredients they need. So why not manufacture it? This was one of many ideas developed at the FutureSmart™ Open Forum on Sustainability that took place outside London, United Kingdom, in June.

Gathering world-class experts from a variety of industries to help solve some of our big challenges, the ultimate goal of the Open Forums is to find more efficient ways to mine, but also, crucially, to reduce our impact and create a positive legacy for the surrounding environment and local communities.

Our first forum had representation from more than 75 different market sectors, 30 companies, 16 countries and 6 continents. The result? More than 1,150 hours of discussion and 1,000 ideas generated.

WATER

The focus of our first forum was sustainability and, in particular, water. With so many operations in water-stressed areas, focusing on efficiency, elimination and alternate sources is a priority for Anglo American. For host communities, this means less environmental stress. For our business, it means the ability to sustain and expand production and grow our operations.

How does a mine lose water? Most of the water is used by our tailings disposal facilities – where we store the non-valuable parts of ore, after separating the valuable fraction – and through the control of dust on our haul roads. In other words, we lose much of our water because of up-stream activities.

Potential solutions identified included reducing the quantity of tailings that we produce through an increased focus on rejecting waste earlier in the process. Direct metal extraction through in-situ mining – which involves drilling boreholes into a deposit – was also discussed and some challenging concepts developed. In some other cases, where there is too much water rather than too little, the forum developed ideas on high volume, low-cost water treatment to return the water for safe human use.

SOLAR: PICKING UP STEAM

Did you know that solar-powered steam can drive energy generation, running desalination plans, purification processes, and sterilisation? At our first Open Forum, delegates connected water and energy in a productive discussion of renewables – particularly solar power.

We also used the opportunity to extend the conversation beyond water, thinking about how we could power our operations. For example, in the oil and gas industry, solar thermal power is used to raise the temperature of the underground reservoirs, enhancing oil recovery. This approach was raised at the Open Forums, initiating compelling discussion. For instance, how would we extract minerals differently if the orebody was heated to several hundred degrees? The dreams of in-situ mining and processing edge one step closer when we consider applying technologies from comparable industries.

OPENING UP

Our first Open Forum delivered eighteen themes, ranging from bio-mining (where micro-organisms leach out minerals) to gamification (creating water awareness through game incentives). Although these were narrowed to five winning pitches, none of the ideas have been lost and, indeed, many will be combined with existing work on new projects.

Now, our job is to assess the ideas and quickly sort them into projects that can deliver on our ambitious targets. In other words, which projects will fundamentally transform our business – and make mining smarter for the future?

And beyond mining, the same principles can be applied. World Water Week gives us all an opportunity to reflect on how each of us, as individuals, share the responsibility to better manage our water usage and make a real and positive difference to the communities and environment around us.

Learn more about our approach to water

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