Global warming is real and real action is needed to do something about it. Development of clean energy systems to reduce or avoid the use of fossil fuels is one action item. However, clean energy systems require a lot of different types of metal and the demand for these metals is expected to rapidly increase in the coming decades.
This poses some fundamental challenges. Sources of metal to supply this demand are currently unknown. Another challenge is to conceive and develop sustainable and environmentally friendly methods for extracting the metals.
The skills and broad perspective of UBC mining engineers ensures that they are, and will continue to be, key players in the response to these challenges. Their contributions combined with those of others are fundamentally important to real action focused on reducing CO2 emissions.
Read on to learn what mining is, about the undergraduate program, about the many career options available in the mining industry, and how you, as a mining engineer, can contribute to dealing with the challenges of supplying the metals needed for a green economy.
The Department of Mining Engineering at The University of British Columbia is one of six departments in the Faculty of Applied Science. It is also known as the Norman B Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering.
What is mining? Basically, it is a collection of processes that change earth materials into useful forms. The processes may be as simple as excavating gravel and passing it through screens to obtain desired particle sizes or they may be a sequence of more complex processes that increase the very low concentrations of metals in the earth (sometimes measured in parts per million) so that the metals can be used to manufacture the things we use every day.
What makes mining interesting is that the processes involve every discipline in science and engineering (yes, every one). A scan of the Current Research page and Research Groups page on this website will give you a sense of the breadth of the subject.
The department is small compared to other departments. As a student you will quickly get to know all the faculty, staff and other students. Mining students are very active socially and engage in a number of extracurricular activities. They attend conferences, compete in “mining games” contests against students from other mining schools across Canada and the US, get involved in engineering design teams, and organize tours to mines in Canada or other parts of the world.
The courses you would take as an undergraduate student are shown on the Undergraduate page. An important goal of the department is to prepare students for leadership roles in industry, government, or academia. Problem-solving, effective oral and written communication, teamwork, and lifelong learning are a few of the important skills you will learn. We value breadth (and so do most employers) and therefore, in addition to technical content, you will learn about economics and finance in the mining industry, management strategies, innovation, and about the relationship between mining and indigenous people and society in general.
There are many possible career paths in the mineral resources industry. You could work for a large or small mining company, an equipment supplier, an engineering or management consulting firm, government or non-government organizations, financial institutions, or development banks. If you want to explore some aspect of the field, you could do research as a graduate student. Mining is a global industry and there are many opportunities for travel or to work in almost every country in the world. Starting salaries for mining engineering graduates are typically higher than those for other types of engineer.
So, what about those challenges?
There are several challenges, perhaps a different one for every metal. For example, in the last 5000 years about 500 million tonnes of copper have been produced. To meet the demands of low carbon technologies the world will need the same amount of copper in the next 25 years. However, the sources of such amounts of copper are currently unknown. To continue extraction from lower grade (concentration) orebodies to obtain more copper is not sustainable because it would require more energy and water and would generate more waste.
Wind power turbines, photovoltaic cells for solar power, and new battery technologies each require large amounts of other critical metals, such as lithium, cobalt and graphite, for which there are few sustainable and reliable sources. Recycling these metals is possible, but currently recycling technologies have limitations. (Recycling is actually another form of mining.)
As a mining engineer you will have a variety of opportunities to take real climate action. You could use your skills to design mining projects that implement methods to reduce their use of energy and water, their waste production, or their carbon emissions, i.e., a low footprint mine. You could go further and become involved with the development of advanced technologies or advise on the policies needed to deal with metal supply challenges. Change is needed and as a mining engineer you can contribute to making these changes along with other professionals and with society.
I invite you to join, define, or drive the changes need to respond to the challenges.
W Scott Dunbar PhD PEng
Professor and Head