hlopex / Shutterstock
The future of the adoption of green technologies relies heavily on the availability of minerals and metals. Renewable energy sources that reduce carbon emissions have become a focus of the energy sector, and the technologies that support the use of these renewables require an abundance of minerals and metals to function. For example, materials used in solar panels, in batteries and wind turbines require a reliable resource of rare metals. In addition to this, our escalating consumption of tech products is further pushing the need for mining larger amounts of rare metals and minerals.
The Solution to Increased Demand for Rare Metals and Minerals
This increase in demand is presenting a challenge to an already strained industry, even China’s most abundant mines are reportedly coming ever closer to depletion. A possible solution would be to open more mining sites, but this is very expensive as it often involves creating infrastructures specifically for the site, such as railways, power stations, and ports. It simply isn’t feasible to pay out for the cost of set-up, so much so that scientists are looking to mining in space as a preferred alternative. However, an innovation coming out of work on a classified military program that was abandoned may provide another solution.
Planes are already proving useful in modern mining practices. Aircraft is being utilized for essential missions such as surveying, observation, transporting staff in remote areas or large sites, transporting equipment, or even extracted metals. These functions are key to successful mining exploits; for example, planes allow for sophisticated geophysical data to be collected, giving experts detailed information on the composition of the land. This indicates where to mine, the size of open pits, deformations underground that should be given caution to, and more.
Planes also make it possible for employees to access difficult to reach areas, but there are still limitations, as mining is very water-intensive, personnel and equipment often needs to reach terrains of ice, snow, mud, sand, and water, which is not safe for most aircraft to land on. In the current mining industry, planes provide a key part of the infrastructure, alongside trains and cargo ships, but recently they have promised to surpass this role.
The mining industry needs to expand outside the bounds of relying upon its supporting infrastructure is coming out of the aviation industry. And aviation is being looked to change the face of the mining industry in a way that will allow new areas to be accessed without the expense of setting up the infrastructure that would have originally been needed to support it.
In Palmdale, California, a team is working on the LMH-1, a new aircraft that has the direct upward lift of a helicopter, combined with the aerodynamic lift of a plane, as well as the buoyant capabilities of an airship. The craft is entirely unique and has been under construction for over 20 years, born out of a classified military project developing hybrid airship technology. The company, Skunk Works, has already sunk $100 million in researching the aircraft which is now ready to be sold commercially. Given the LMH-1’s capabilities to land on ice, snow, mud, sand, and water through the use of its giant suction cups, the aircraft’s first consumers are expected to be the mining sector, who will use it to mine in remote, difficult to access areas.
The future of the mining sector will likely utilize aircraft like the LMH-1 alongside their current infrastructure, and in the coming decades, it’s also likely that earth mining missions will run in unison with those in space to meet the accelerated demand for the material. Planes will play a key role in sustaining mining on earth, allowing it to expand past its current limitations.