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What is the optimal and sustainable lifetime of a mine?

: Wellmer, Friedrich-Wilhelm; Scholz, Roland W.

Fulltext ()

Sustainability 10 (2018), No.2, Art. 480, 22 pp.
ISSN: 2071-1050
Journal Article, Electronic Publication
Fraunhofer IGB ()
Break-even cut-off; cut-off grade; Lifetime of a mine; Resource efficiency; Sustainable cut-off; Sustainable mining

The first stage of the circular economy, mining, is examined from the perspective of sustainability. The authors discuss how to maximize the use of phosphate rock, a primary commodity. To attract investment capital in a market economy system, a mine has to operate profitably, i.e., its lifetime must be optimized under economic conditions, for example, according to Taylor's Rule. From a sustainability perspective, however, the lifetime should extend as long as possible and the grades mined be as low as possible. The authors examine methods for optimizing a mine's lifetime under economic conditions according to practical experience and learning effects to optimize exploration and exploitation. With the condition of sustainability, a recently developed concept of cut-off grade for a layered phosphate deposit is examined and considerations for prolonging a mine's lifetime are discussed. As there are big losses from the current and potential future value chains above and below the current cut-off grade, we argue that the losses and use efficiency of phosphorus are key parts of a circular economy.