Green approach to mining
Mr. Craig Bradshaw, CEO of Masan High-Tech Materials, shares his thoughts with VnEconomy on how the mining industry contributes to the green economy and sustainable development.
How can the mining industry contribute to trends towards a green and sustainable economy?
It is interesting in terms of what is required to facilitate the green economy. When you look at renewable energy, energy storage, and conversion from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles (EVs), all of that transformation requires critical minerals, and those minerals predominantly come from mining.
And when you look at lithium, graphite, tungsten, and fluorine, etc., all are critical to the technology that underpins that green energy transformation. Luckily, at our Nui Phao Mine, we produce tungsten and fluorine, and as a result play a pivotal role in that transformation from a mining perspective.
Beyond that, mining is also a generator of greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint, so it is incumbent upon the mining industry to also become more efficient and convert its own methods of extraction into green methods. Many companies in the world are looking to transform from utilizing big excavators and trucks that consume diesel to EVs or battery-powered vehicles or have the power for the battery come from renewable sources.
Equally, through the company, we have acquired niobate, so we are working with different mining companies to improve battery technology to power 300 to 400-ton trucks and trains pulling 1,000-1,500 tons in large mining operations. Our tungsten niobium and our batteries enable that, and we are working with major mining and advanced technology companies to facilitate the transformation.
There are many batteries to suit different purposes and different outcomes. In particular, the battery that we have invested in and are developing is for high-end use. It is a more expensive battery but it lasts a lot longer, at three-times longer than others, so has a lower environmental footprint.
When you look at high-performance cars, battery tools, power tools, or phones, the battery normally degrades after three years, but a niobium battery will last longer, not degrade, and can be charged to up to 90 per cent in five minutes, which is a significant change.
We believe that one of the critical elements in the acceptance of renewable energy among the population is having batteries and tools that facilitate an improvement in the quality of life, meaning they become more responsible citizens by reducing their carbon footprint.
I think that, fundamentally, people want to do the right thing, so how do we help them? The answer is offering better quality products that last longer and have a lower environmental footprint. And certainly, to do that, we need better materials coming from better science.
When you look at Masan High-tech Materials today, we are the Number 1 recycler of tungsten in the world. On the back of that, we are looking to expand our recycling efforts by taking the technology we have in Germany and replicating it in Vietnam, and our tungsten and cobalt come from recycling as a result.
We have customers that ask for 100 per cent green tungsten from recycling. Physically, this is not actually possible, but we believe we can get to about 70 per cent of needs by recycling, with the remainder coming from new mining. As the leading producer of tungsten-based products in the Western world and Number 3 in the world, we are the only independent company that is able to do this, which has given us the opportunity to further enhance recycling.
What strengths does the mining industry possess to develop in Vietnam? And what are the limitations?
One of the benefits of Vietnam is it is a mineral-rich country. When you look at our Nui Phao Mine, it is the Number 1 producing tungsten mine in the world besides China, where 70 per cent of tungsten in the world is located.
When you look at fluorine, we are the Number 3 producer in the world. Regarding geologic conditions in Vietnam, we believe there are further deposits that are yet to be discovered. The challenge is ensuring that mining legislation and mining laws are appropriate for attracting investment.
That is one of the key challenges in Vietnam. Mining by its nature is capital-intensive and needs significant investment to make it viable, and to do that, you have to attract capital. Vietnam has been a challenging location from the capital allocation perspective.
There are a number of mines in Vietnam, but predominantly they are run by Vinacomin, which is a State-owned enterprise (SOE). We are a private enterprise that operates and complies with international standards, and we have done that to ensure our shareholder base.
We can only attract investment as long as we comply with international legislation. For mining to open up more in Vietnam, I think the legislative framework needs to improve to make the country more attractive as an investment location.
When I look at bauxite, which is a classic example, Vietnam has the third-highest reserves in the world but is only the 14th-largest producer. I know there are many international companies who would like to invest in Vietnam to expand in bauxite and aluminum, but with the current framework, from a legislative perspective, I do not see it as an area that is attractive for their capital allocation. Masan can work with them to partner up, but the legal framework needs to be improved to make that happen.
What should mining enterprises do to affirm their position amid digital transformation and green economic development, especially with Vietnam setting a target of net-zero emissions?
It is not only incumbent upon mining but also upon other industries to minimize their emissions of CO2 and move towards achieving the zero-emission target. From a mining perspective, there are many minerals that we produce in Vietnam or that can be recycled in Vietnam.
When you look at the technology that we use in mining, from extracting minerals and processing them into finished products, the technology is equally applicable in regard to recycling. So, one of the great benefits of the industry is that the science that exists can be replicated and utilized in recycling technology beyond just mining.
My long-term view is that a certain amount of our mineral wealth and requirements have to come from conventional mining, and that has to be complemented by “urban mining” – taking the waste that we generate, from industry and individuals, and taking devices that are at the end of their life and repurposing or reusing them and turning them back into the original minerals and back into the circle.
I think one of the ways that we can achieve net-zero emissions is by making sure that those two parts of the industry take place simultaneously, which creates offsets for new mining. Further advancements in renewables and energy storage and urbanization will also move us towards net-zero emissions.