Co-Authored by Rebecca Campbell, counsel Andrzej Omietanski, local partner Matthew Burnell and partner Gary Felthun, Partners at White & Case LLP
With the increasing pace of innovation, accelerated by Covid-19, new transformative mining technologies are rapidly becoming available to the mining industry, ushering in a new era of increased productivity, efficiency, safety, and growth, for miners.
African miners stand to gain as the world embraces a new digital revolution. New transformative mining technologies allow miners to mine resources that were previously unaffordable and impossible to access.
Transformative technologies will not only increase the bottom for African mining companies. Importantly, adoption of new technologies will facilitate better environment, social and governance (ESG) performance.
In this article, we survey the state of play in technology and equipment innovation in Africa and discuss the challenges and the opportunities facing African mining companies as they embrace new innovative technologies.
African mining companies are rapidly adopting the latest technologies to modernise their operations, yet significant opportunities remain. Set out below are some examples of existing and future mining technologies, and their application in the African mining industry.
Mining Technologies Driving ESG Compliance
Widespread adoption of the existing and emerging technologies shown above will allow African mining companies to not only take a huge leap forward technologically, but also address critical ESG matters by adhering to newly formed industry standards.
ESG has been a focal point for the mining industry. The International Council of Mining and Metals (ICMM) recently launched a set of Mining Principles intended to drive responsible production. The Mining Principles define best practice environmental, social and governance requirements for the industry through a comprehensive set of performance expectations. The requirements include, among other things, a focus on health and safety and environmental performance. New technologies can help address both but come with their own new challenges.
Innovation, including through improvement of safety and environmental efficiencies (in line with ICMM’s Mining Principles) will allow African miners to build mines of the future that are not only sustainable but better capable of securing funding for expansions and additional innovative technologies.
Despite still lagging behind technological advancements, mining laws across Africa continue to evolve and so the miners that embrace and lead change will reap the early bird rewards. ‘The mine of the future requires leadership that embraces a culture of data-led decision-making and a new way of thinking and operating.’ While miners will encounter countless legal considerations, we set out a couple of key ones.
New technologies rely on data transfer, sometimes including personal data, from one party to another and at times, via a service provider’s network. Miners will need to ensure any new technologies are implemented in accordance with applicable data protection laws to protect personal data to avoid hefty fines. In addition to the potential disclosures of protected and personal information if databases are breached, if third parties gain operational control of technology and machinery at mines, they could cause significant damage to the environment, health and safety, and mining operations.
Also, as miners incorporate third party technological advancements into their systems, they may find themselves innovating independently of third-party technology and should have in place robust intellectual property management processes to protect their innovations as well as to protect against any inadvertent breaches of the intellectual property of third parties.
Embracing available and future technologies is significant to the resilience and sustainability of the African mining industry, enabling African miners to jump from Industry 2.0 to 4.0.
While the initial set up costs will be significant, the return on investment over time should create profitability, jobs, and importantly, drive ESG performance.
An innovative sunrise for African miners is just around the corner. It looks green as well.
Any views expressed in this article are strictly those of the authors and should not be attributed in any way to White & Case LLP.
Deloitte: The Future of Mining in Africa 2018