Busting mining myths with
Professor Peter Knights

In a world where news comes in thick, fast and fake, trying to decipher fact from fiction is becoming increasingly challenging.

The issue is compounded in the field of careers in mining engineering, with perceptions that all mining is unsustainable and environmentally damaging.

Professor Peter Knights from the School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering aims to debunk common mining myths and clarify the state of the sector.

Myth 1 // Mining is dying

“When the build is completed there are often construction job losses due to that phase of the mining ending,” Professor Knights said.

“However, there remains behind a lucrative and vibrant industry which continues to be productive for many years.”

This productivity and the use of technology that amplifies efficiencies is seeing some exciting times in the mining industry.

According to the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Minerals, Queensland is one of the world’s largest producer of metallurgical coal and the second largest producer of lead, and features globally in third place for zinc and fourth place for bauxite. And it’s Australia’s largest producer of silver and second largest producer of copper.

More than 59,000 people were employed in the Queensland mining sector in the 2016-17 financial year. Between March 2017 and March 2018, mining exports were valued at $37 billion – accounting for more than half the State’s $71 billion total export value.

Mining is alive and well.

Myth 2 // Technology is replacing jobs

Autonomous-haulage trucks and remote-control centres are prevalent throughout the mining industry. As with any industry, changes in technology require a shift in the type of people being employed.

Professor Knights believes there has been a conversation ‘shift’ in mining.

“From 2013-17 the discussion in mining circles was all around costs and productivity. Now it has moved to the use of technology to increase productivity,” he said.

This refocus fits well with the skills that UQ mining engineers develop while at university.

“Mining companies are looking for graduates who are systems thinkers – who can recognise the importance of new technologies and see how they fit within the mining industry,” Professor Knights said.

New technologies are changing the face of mining and creating opportunities for graduates. Far from replacing jobs, the technology shift is reshaping the mining industry and requires intelligent, innovative engineers to help mining take advantages of these changes.

“This is why UQ graduates are in such demand,” Professor Knights said.

“Our courses keep pace with industry and, as such, UQ mining engineers are being snapped up by companies.”

Myth 3 // Renewable energy means the end of mining

The transition to renewable energy production and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is effecting the introduction of new energy coal mines in Australia, but other areas of mining are set to reap substantial benefits.

Technology forecasters predict a world in which electric vehicles are prevalent. Electric vehicles cannot be built without the products of Queensland’s mining industry. This includes lightweight aluminium for car bodies, copper wiring in electric induction motors, steel in the chassis and lithium batteries.

Queensland’s metalliferous (ores that contain metal) and other non-coal related mining is poised to flourish. Between March 2017 to March 2018, Queensland exported more than $8 billion worth of metalliferous material from mines not associated with the coal industry.

Queensland mining operations produce metal and minerals that are used in everything from jewellery to medicines and jet engines, and new uses are being found all the time.

That’s not to say that coal mining will disappear. Coal will remain a major export for many years and is still needed for the production of iron and steel. Australia is the world's largest coal exporter and is known for producing the cleanest coal in the world.

The move to renewable energy sources presents opportunities for mining and the production of minerals used in the technologies associated with clean energy production.