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The frugal mine

What does it mean to be frugal, and how does this concept apply to mining? 

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, to be frugal means to be sparing or economical with regards to the use of money and/or resources. 

We all understand the need for frugality from time to time in our personal lives; because, for all of the plentiful periods, there will be times of uncertainty too. When we have to tighten our belts and make do. In those circumstances, we are glad for some savings, another source of income or the ability to live lean. 

The same principles apply to mining, or any business in fact. While the industry may currently be basking in the glow of high metals prices and growing demand, those of us who have worked in this sector for a while know its cyclical nature. 

Yes, we need to make hay (or metal) while the sun shines, but it’s also important that during periods of plenty, we look to allocate some time and capital towards optimisation and diversification projects too. 

That might mean something simple like a plant audit to fine tune the operating parameters of equipment, gain better energy efficiency and extend the life of key components. Or it could be something major, like the characterisation of tailings to investigate the potential for a new stream of revenue within an existing business model.    

Frugality, as a concept, has a lot to offer the mining industry (which, until recently, was a kingdom built upon excess, in every sense). 

In the future, the frugal mine will not only be the most financially secure or savvy. It will also be the one that creates the least waste, the lowest emissions and places the lowest demand on natural resources. It will be the one that is able to keep valuable personnel while other companies are forced to lay off staff. It will have the means to involve local communities long term (see also, trust), rather than extending the hand of friendship then pulling it back years later when funds run low.

Think of it as an investment… frugality now equals stability later. It’s a way to build resilience and safeguard against the boom-bust nature of metals supply. It will enable mining companies to withstand disruption, whether that comes in the form of (god forbid) another pandemic, or Elon Musk riding in on a Tesla Model S… Whatever. It's important to be prepared.

That’s why, this month, all Intelligent Miner content will be themed around ‘how to do more with less’. Below are a few articles to get the cogs turning. Send me your own ideas too. I’d love to hear what your company’s up to.


  Next month on The Intelligent Miner: Maintaining a social license to operate    

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Reading list
Eight of the most interesting articles I've read on frugality & optimisation in mining
Coreo & the Circular Economy Leadership Coalition: Mining for circularity
I did a little jump for joy when I found the recording of this event. There are some great examples of how mining companies like Anglo American and Agnico Eagle are embracing circularity to boost their resilience, and more. Watch at your leisure
E&MJ: Disruptive metallurgy for cleaner, greener battery metals
Scroll down to the section on Lepidico. The Canadian lithium producer has created a process that generates five different product streams, no waste and heats itself. The model of efficiency
University of Queensland: the war on mine waste
Dr Anita Parbhakar-Fox explores whether we can expand circular economy principles in mining, and eliminate mine waste. Anita will be joining me on The Intelligent Miner this month to talk more about waste valorisation
Ziegler CAT: Cat 793C rebuild time lapse video
Something impressive to watch. Rebuilds may be time consuming but they can offer significant cost savings and waste reduction opportunities compared to brand new machines
ANSTO: Reducing, reusing & recycling mine waste
A team led by Monash University has been investigating using low-cost, low energy technologies to reuse stockpiled waste from mining operations and capture carbon dioxide in the form of valuable carbonate minerals. Here's how...
E&MJ: TLC for primary crushers
How to optimise the performance of primary crushers, from upgrades and rebuilds to digital optimisation tools
The Intelligent Miner: Reprocess, recover, recycle
How the reprocessing of tailings can improve risk management, protect the environment and boost mines financially 
Saskatchewan Research Council: Optimising plant performance
This article focuses on the benefits of auditing diamond plants but, of course, the process could be applied in metals plants/concentrators too
Further reading...
Because I seem to have written more on this subject than most
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