Key Insights from TMS 2018
By Mark Cooksey
What’s the future of metals, minerals and materials?
This year the annual TMS conference was bigger and better than ever: a five day event bringing together all the best minds in minerals, metals and materials. Over 4000 people from across the globe attended to hear expert talks and panels on a wide range of topics.
There was the opportunity to engage with both the industrial and academic point of view on the challenges and opportunities in our industry; it’s very productive when both perspectives are in the same room.
To sum up the event, I’m bringing you 3 key insights from TMS 2018 — takeaways that you’ll be able to use to understand and optimise your operation.
Insights from TMS 2018
1. Increasing demand for minerals and metals will continue, but there will be changes to which metals are used for which products.
It’s clear to anyone that metals are still in high demand.
But there’s a change in the air as we head towards a renewable energy economy.
Yves Bréchet, High Commissioner to Atomic Energy in France, discussed this movement in his talk ‘Materials and Energy: The Need for a Systematic Approach’.
Bréchet discussed some of the impacts on metal demand in transitioning to large renewable energy production. For example, wind turbines require 10 times as much steel as nuclear reactors per unit of energy generated, and the stocks of steel, aluminium and copper in projected 2050 solar and wind capacity will be 2-8 times that of 2010 production.
The uncertain trajectory of renewable energy and the increased metal requirements of both wind and solar means that the future of metals demand is highly dynamic.
2. There’s even more demand for higher performance metals.
High performance metals are very much in demand across many industries. Alloys are becoming increasingly specialised to deliver specific performance in many applications.
What does that mean for you?
It can increase demand for purer metal with lower impurities. This requirement is driven back through the process chain to mining, increasing the focus on impurities at all stages. For example, there’s even more focus on managing impurities during smelting.
Overall, it’s apparent that there is a strengthening link between ore quality and the ultimate use of metal.
3. The focus on sustainability is set to keep increasing — but it’s complex.
Obviously sustainability is at the forefront of a lot of people’s minds.
But there is a paradox to the increasing demand for sustainable energy: to manufacture renewables like wind turbines and solar, you need to produce more metal — which in itself has a large carbon footprint.
Therefore, at TMS 2018 there were intensive discussions about how to make metal production more efficient and sustainable.
Another example of the conflict between sustainability and manufacturing is the complexities of recycling.
The increasing demand for specialised alloys means that we can be left with a product that is difficult to recycle. For example, aluminium-lithium alloys are high performance, but difficult to recycle because lithium is an impurity for most aluminium alloys.
Recyclability needs to be a factor in alloy selection. There are cases of companies focusing on improving the properties of more common alloys — to avoid the use of specialised alloys that are more difficult to recycle.
Ultimately these two examples suggest that for many forward-thinking organisations, sustainability is influencing business decisions.
How will these insights affect your operations?
It’s clear from the discussions at TMS 2018 that the minerals and metals value chains are becoming more interdependent, with requirements in one part of the chain necessitating changes in distant parts of the chain. It’s becoming more difficult to simultaneously satisfy the demands of cost, performance and sustainability.
To effectively manage these changes and industry trends, it’s vital to understand your processes and operations.
Recognising areas of vulnerability or inefficiency early on means you can lead the charge in optimising your operations.
Want to ensure your organisation is well-supported during future developments?
The Minerals Process Optimisation team at CSIRO, through our advanced scientific capabilities and our extensive industry experience, is uniquely positioned to add value to your operation. Through ongoing analytical support, training, or solution development, we can help you understand and optimise your operations.
Contact the team on +61 3 9545 8865 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to talk about how you can prepare for the future.