Moonshot Thinking - Is the road to a zero-emission copper mine of the future a fast-track or long-term vision?

Moonshot Thinking - Is the road to a zero-emission copper mine of the future a fast-track or long-term vision?

More than 50 years ago, U.S. President John F. Kennedy captured the world’s imagination when he said, “This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” Thus, the term ‘moonshot’ entered the lexicon as shorthand for “a difficult or expensive task, the outcome of which is expected to have great significance.” 1

At the time, the world redefined possibility and changed the parameters of what seemed impossible through the activation of the space race. The speed at which technology was created and improved in order to complete the seemingly ‘impossible task’ was progressing at an accelerated rate and ultimately resulted in reaching a level of technology that surpassed any previous expectations.

This type of thinking has since then been applied successfully in other industries and is more commonly known as ‘moonshot thinking’. Moonshot thinking brings a thought process to propose a radical technology or vision that can have a global impact for some of the world’s most difficult problems. It aims to provide a solution that not only brings small improvements to a specific field but also solutions that can give ten times improvements and completely solve the issue at hand. 2 A blueprint of ‘moonshot’ thinking is presented below which describes three key components.

In strategy development moonshot thinking takes a “future back” approach to strategy which requires a consensus view of a desired future state. A good “future back” strategy goes well beyond a three- year planning horizon and has three aspects to success:

  • It inspires

  • Is credible

  • Is imaginative

A Zero-Emission Copper Mine of the Future is such a moonshot aspiration, as the success elements to build a future back strategy requires the foundation of clear short, long term, and multi staged frameworks. Despite appearing impossible, previous experiences throughout history teach that these heights can be reached with a consensus vision and correct pathways in place.

In the case of a decarbonised future for copper mining, significant breakthrough technology takes time, and this needs to be balanced with incremental short-term goals.

A challenge to the application of moonshot thinking in the copper industry is to leverage the level of public knowledge on the value copper offers to society now and into the future, as well as where copper originates. In comparison with the space race, where these advancements were trending worldwide at the time and sparked a global interest, copper is far from this level of interest to the general public. Multiple experts who were interviewed in the process of making of this report answered that the public has some understanding of mining but little to no knowledge at all with regards to copper, where copper comes from, how it is produced, what is it used for, how it impacts daily lives.

I call it a broad understanding, that is there is quite a number of people in our community who have a fairly good understanding of the mining process at the 30,000 foot level. It’s not that we’re an entirely ignorant society when it comes to mining and its processes. *Adrian Beer, CEO METS Ignited Australia Ltdor

*I don’t think so, I think it’s like an aircraft black box, copper is invisible in society, yet it plays such a crucial role. People don’t have an understanding of the technological, societal, and regulatory complexity and the social aspects of extracting copper from the Earth.* *Hal Stillman Global, International Copper Association ICA, USA.

Following from this however, Stillman also emphasised that the current generation of people are also limited in their understanding of not even just copper, but how everyday products are produced.

“We don’t even know where our food comes from. And we consume it every day.” Hal Stillman Global, International Copper Association ICA, USA

Decarbonisation in industry however is a significant and rapidly evolving global trend. Aligning moonshot thinking of a Zero-Emission Copper Mine of the Future will be an essential component to achieve this objective and could positively contribute toward society’s knowledge and perception of copper production and its wider contribution to society.