Technologies 4.0, Engineering and Services for Industry, Interviews

“The 21st century mining industry is about digitalisation, technology and safety”: Alberto Lavandeira, Atalaya Mining

4 de July de 2023

Interview with Alberto Lavandeira, CEO of Atalaya Mining, in Global Industry Magazine.

Four times more copper is needed to manufacture electric cars than for combustion vehicles. Can Spain meet the demand?

Indeed, the strong growth of the electric car globally will require much more copper, which will be coupled with the high demand for electricity distribution grids, as well as solar and wind generation. This demand pressure will have to be balanced by increased supply from the mining sector, which requires time and large investments that are often only available to large corporations.

In Spain, copper is only produced in Andalusia and there are reserves with a very good future in Galicia. Unlike other projects located in remote places, or with political or technical risk, in Spain we are perfectly prepared to face the increase in demand that is coming.

Reducing external dependence on raw materials for our industries is strategic for the European Union. Member countries, such as Spain, are implementing policies and support to encourage the production of all types of indigenous metals to ensure an adequate supply. Political will is essential for this.

One of the challenges of the transition to electric mobility is batteries. How is the industry facing this new scenario?

Annual metal consumption will continue to grow for many years to come because of an increasingly urbanised world population requiring infrastructure and services that need more metals.

We are living through a technological revolution, perhaps the most important in our history, and batteries are at the centre of it all: demand increases of 2,100% for lithium or 400% for cobalt are predicted.

The challenges of decarbonisation to neutralise the climate crisis will require unprecedented investments. For all this, a lot of raw materials are needed. Globally, the mining industry is already facing the investments needed for such a scenario. And in Spain we have resources, including lithium and cobalt for batteries, among many other metals. Specifically, Andalusia is a success story, with world-leading mining-industrial operations that generate wealth and lasting quality employment in the hollowed-out Spain.

70% of European industry depends on minerals. As an engineer with more than 40 years of experience in the sector, what role will rare earths play in our technological future?

Demand for rare earths, as well as for other critical metals, will continue to increase due to growth in electronics, electric mobility, renewable energy and defence technology. Our industry is dependent on imports, as most of the production and processing is in China and other countries. This implies potential supply insecurity that has recently even led to supply disruptions.

There are opportunities to develop rare earth production and recycling in Europe. Spain has deposits of rare earths and Galicia is one of the areas with the greatest potential, although further research into the resources is needed.

The recent European Critical Raw Materials Act points us in this direction: mineral exploration and exploitation in the EU. Other countries are already actively seeking alternatives and the EU should not be left behind. Research and development of technologies is essential to reduce dependency or to become more efficient. Recycling technologies are developed to recover rare earths from electronic devices and other products, contributing to meeting demand and strengthening the autonomy of the technology sector.

Atalaya Mining is the operator of the Riotinto copper mine, what is mining in the 21st century like?

The mining industry of the 21st century, also in Spain, is digitalisation, technology and safety. All industry today is synonymous with assurance, quality, sustainability and social responsibility; and modern mining is no exception. Sustainability and commitment to the environment is in the DNA of companies, including mining companies, seeking excellence that usually exceeds strict regional, Spanish and European legislation. The preparation and administrative processing of a mining project, its construction, operation and decommissioning, involves hundreds of expert professionals who put all their skills, criteria and professional ethics into what they do. And always within a strict regulatory framework, with transparent and participatory approval processes. And with the mine up and running, safety and environmental controls are constant and involve many parties; and actions, including restoration, are guaranteed. The result is that the minerals we use are extracted in a safe, sustainable and resource-efficient manner.

Modern mining makes its activity compatible with the rest of the productive activities, and ends up reintegrating the land for its future alternative use, be it industrial, agricultural, forestry or natural landscape.

Cobre San Rafael is developing a project to reactivate copper production in Touro based on transfer mining, what does it consist of?

La minería de transferencia restaura la tierra en paralelo a la minería: las excavaciones que se abren para extraer el valioso mineral se rellenan con los materiales sobrantes, restaurando así la tierra, que pasa a estar disponible para usos alternativos a la minería.

This method is considered “Best Available Technique” because it minimises the affected area, limits the construction of waste dumps and reduces the visual impact on the landscape. Internationally we find excellent examples in Sweden, Finland, Canada, the United States and Australia, and of course in Spain, including excellent cases in Galicia.