Mining Demand: Can It Last?

In today’s guest post, Emerson’s Dan Nower, a member of the Asset Optimization and metals & mining industry team, recaps a recent mining forum to highlight the challenges in growing global supply to meet demand.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Mining Site Automation and Communication Forum held in Tucson Arizona. This was the first time it was held in the United States. This was a small conference with wide range of very interesting presentations. Topics from the implementation of new technologies like collision avoidance for haul trucks and handling to socio-economic discussions of quality workforce shortage and environmental sustainable mining. There was also a wide range of mines represented by the attendees; from mature copper mines to surface mines that are under construction. Underground mines were also well represented. All of which were looking to ‘sharpen the blade’ by listening and networking to what mine leaders, consultants, peers and vendors had to offer.

There were several very good presentations. One that really excited me was, “Global Trends in the Mining Industry” by Neal Rigby, Ph.D. of SRK Consulting. There is currently a large deficit of steel, copper, silver and gold. Rigby stated that mining revenues have increased six fold since the year 2000. Also, he put numbers around how long this will last. Growth from the emerging markets of China, India, Russia, Brazil and Mexico currently drive the demand to build infrastructure. The mature markets of the USA, Japan, Germany, South Korea and others will continue to contribute because their aging infrastructures will need to be replaced and upgraded. This secondary demand will lengthen the demand cycle. Rigby predicts that the high demand will last for the next 15 years.


Mary Poulton, Ph.D. of the University of Arizona also talked of the future of mining from a geo-political and philosophical perspective. In a portion of her discussion, she put into perspective just how large the mineral deficit is. Assuming a conservative annual 2.2% (historically 3.1%) copper consumption compound annual growth rate (CAGR), by 2050, we will need 46 metric tons (MT) globally. Currently, the global consumption is 17.5 MT. Okay, so we need to increase it, significantly. It required 40 years to add 10 MT to our production rate. We have 40 more years to increase it by almost 30 MT. In the past 40 years, the 10 MT increase was accomplished by increasing the equipment size. Shovels, draglines, trucks, etc. are much larger than they were forty years ago. Can we continue to safely increase the size of the already massive equipment? Probably not.

Dr. Poulton’s point was in order to achieve these mining (not only copper mining) production increases and be social and eco-friendly, new technologies will have to be invented and implemented. Technologies such as 3D mining design, high precision GPS, machine control and navigation, water free mining, high-speed wireless mesh, and more may give us that ability to grow the production rate of the raw materials needed.


These technologies were discussed to a certain extent at the Mining Site Automation and Communication Forum. I am sure that this small conference will grow in the years to come. In future blog posts, I plan on discussing a few of these promising technologies.

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