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Mitigating climate change impacts around mines

Published by , Editorial Assistant
Global Mining Review,

May 2024 was expected to be the 12th consecutive month with record-high average global air temperatures, highlighting the ongoing impact of global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

The heating of the atmosphere and oceans is triggering extreme weather events worldwide, including extreme heat in Southeast Asia, heavy rains on the Arabian Peninsula and in Brazil, droughts in southern Africa, and more.

In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which UN member states agreed to do by 2050 under the Paris Climate Agreement, it has become increasingly essential to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change. According to the World Bank, about 37% of the necessary mitigation measures needed by 2030 to achieve the Paris Agreement goals can be provided by nature-based solutions.

The Sustainable Kazakhstan Research Institute (SKRI) at Narxoz University, a private university funded by Kazakh businessman and philanthropist Bulat Utemuratov, is developing nature-based solutions aimed at mitigating environmental problems. One such problem is particulate matter, a pollutant which includes soot, dust, and combustion byproducts. The World Health Organization estimates that particulate matter inhaled with air causes 7 million premature deaths annually. Additionally, it contributes to global warming by retaining heat.

SKRI’s director, Dr. Brendan Duprey, has developed and is implementing ‘phytocapture’ technology, which absorbs harmful particles from the air near industrial facilities and cities using a plant barrier. Institute scientists study wind patterns and soil conditions at specific locations and then use the ENVI-met software on a supercomputer to model which types of trees and shrubs need to be planted at what distance from the facility to achieve maximum particle capture.

This spring, the SKRI team began planting trees around the facilities of RG Gold, a major gold producer in Kazakhstan. The first row near RG Gold’s tailings facilities and ore crushing equipment consists of acacia bushes, which capture large dust particles. The next row includes poplars and elms, whose height and dense foliage trap smaller harmful particles carried by the wind. In total, over 20 000 trees and shrubs will be planted around RG Gold’s facilities.

Calculations show that phytocapture can reduce air pollution by up to 40%. This is an important mitigation measure that makes a significant difference. At RG Gold, 800 people work in shifts, and about 2000 people live in the two villages near the company’s mine. Reducing air pollution minimises miners’ and neighbouring residents’ exposure to toxic dust and improves health. This is a significant contribution to Sustainable Development Goal Number 3 – good health and well-being – which is a priority for the global community, including Kazakhstan. Innovations such as phytocapture can be upscaled on the global level to support the achievement of the SDGs which are far behind what is needed to achieve the targets set for 2030.

The SKRI has also commercialised and partnered with other major mining companies in Central Asia, illustrating industry demand for nature-based solutions provided by their expert team.

The SKRI expanded their work portfolio with a grant from Netherlands’ Tauw Foundation. In the context of the grant, the SKRI developed nature-based solutions to treat wastewater of tailings ponds from mining companies in Central Asia, for example the removal of heavy metals so that they do not contaminate the environment.

One possible method of absorbing pollutants is to lay special mats made of biochar and peat at the bottom of tailings ponds and nearby springs. Another option is to plant trees with their root systems surrounded by “wells” of impermeable material, which facilitates the absorption of pollutants from deep groundwater layers.

SKRI’s developments have been recognised as best practices under the UNECE Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents and have been included in the Urban Atlas, the most comprehensive database of nature-based solutions for cities. International mining companies have shown interest in phytocapture and other nature-based technologies developed by the Institute and are exploring its potential use in mines in Canada and Tanzania.

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Asian mining news