Eco-Efficiency in the Australian Minerals Processing Sector

The resources sector has come to accept that the global quest for sustainable development is one of the key shapers of its future development and business success. While much uncertainty remains regarding the full ramifications of sustainable development, it is uncontested that preventive environmental and resource productivity strategies, or eco-efficiency (EE), are conditional for the minerals industry's ability to progress in sustainable development. A customised framework for EE in minerals processing is proposed. It connects five prevention practices (process design; input substitution; plant improvement; good housekeeping; and reuse, recycling and recovery) with five resource productivity themes (resource efficiency; energy use and greenhouse gas emissions; water use and impacts; control of minor elements and toxics; and by-product creation). These are illustrated with practical examples from gold, base metals, alumina, aluminium and pigment operations in Australia. This illustrates that EE is possible from technical and operational perspectives, with implementation ultimately depending on the ability of project teams to build a convincing business case. Moreover, from a technology perspective, EE can be fostered at three distinct and mutually reinforcing innovation platforms: operations; plant design; and process technology.