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Digital Mining Revolution: Unearthing the Future of Resources

AI Powers Discovery of Critical Minerals for Climate Goals

by Adenike Adeodun

To combat the looming shortfall in critical and energy minerals necessary for maintaining global warming within the 1.5 °C threshold set by the Paris Agreement, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has initiated a groundbreaking approach. This strategy involves the digitization and sharing of data to bolster the discovery of new natural resources, essential for meeting the surging demand fueled by the global shift towards clean energy.

Countries are now pressed to unearth new reserves of high-grade mineral ores and draw investments into the mining sector. Leveraging technology and comprehensive data analysis, nations can pinpoint untapped resources and guide mining operations to the most fruitful drilling sites. A noteworthy success story comes from Zambia, where a private firm employed artificial intelligence to craft geological maps, leading to the uncovering of a substantial high-grade copper deposit. By analyzing diverse data streams, including historical drill results and satellite images, the company showcased the potential of modern technology in revolutionizing mineral exploration.

UNCTAD’s Natural Resources Information Exchange (NRIE) initiative stands at the forefront of this technological revolution. It aims to amass a digital repository of historical geoscientific data, empowering developing nations to leverage technological advancements for informed and sustainable decision-making regarding their mineral wealth. The initiative proposes the creation of national resource data banks, encapsulating a wealth of digitalized historical data alongside contemporary exploration and environmental assessments. This comprehensive approach not only facilitates better management of natural resources but also enhances the attractiveness of these countries to potential investors.

Miho Shirotori, head of UNCTAD’s international trade division, emphasizes the critical need for reliable data to attract investment into untapped mineral reserves. Many developing nations face challenges due to inadequate data, hampering their ability to participate fully in the global mineral economy while ensuring environmental stewardship.

UNCTAD advocates for a collaborative and inclusive method, encouraging partnerships among governments, private entities, and institutions with geoscientific archives. Such cooperation would lay the groundwork for robust natural resource data banks, improving countries’ capacity to digitalize, organize, and utilize their geological data effectively. These efforts are aimed at simplifying access to and analysis of archived information through digital databases and artificial intelligence technologies, as exemplified by Zambia’s recent achievements.

Furthermore, the initiative promises to refine data governance, offering more accurate and comprehensive datasets to support strategic decision-making by policymakers, government agencies, and industry stakeholders. This enhanced data management is crucial for allocating resources wisely and responding proactively to the evolving demands of the clean energy transition.

Amidst this technological and strategic advancement, it is vital to address the risk of perpetuating dependency on commodity exports in these mineral-rich countries. UNCTAD underlines the importance of developing nations enhancing their investment appeal to fuel economic growth and contribute sustainably to the rising global demand for critical energy transition minerals like lithium, cobalt, nickel, and copper. These minerals are indispensable for renewable energy technologies, including solar panels, wind turbines, battery storage, and electric vehicles.

With projections indicating a surge in copper demand from 23% to over 42% by 2050 for clean energy applications alone, the urgency to ramp up production is clear. Failure to increase copper output could result in a significant supply-demand mismatch, jeopardizing efforts to limit global warming in accordance with the Paris Agreement goals.

UNCTAD’s innovative approach to digitizing and sharing geological data represents a pivotal step towards securing the future of critical and energy minerals. By harnessing technology and fostering international cooperation, developing countries can unlock the potential of their natural resources, ensuring a sustainable and equitable contribution to the global clean energy transition. This initiative not only addresses the immediate challenge of bridging the production gap but also lays the foundation for a more resilient and prosperous future for these nations and the planet.


Source: Mining Weekly

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