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Second order effects - First class opportunities

Senior Engagement Manager

The unconsidered secondary problems of decarbonisation are some of the greatest opportunities for companies with the knowhow.

The decarbonisation journey of many sectors is a complex and difficult one, with the supply of critical materials a growing concern. The demands on manufacturers to meet the scale-up requirements of decarbonisation will in itself lead to a fresh set of industrial and environmental problems to be addressed. The question is do we choose to address these problems proactively or kick the can down the decarbonisation road?

Take the example of the electrification of industrial processes and heating driving a massive increase in copper demand to build the large, distributed, renewable electrical system that acts as the lynchpin for global decarbonisation. This forces copper producers to process lower-grade ore leading to more complex processing and in this case, significantly increased water usage and downstream mine leachate (the liquid byproduct of mineral extraction). The treatment of these residues is big business, and the leachate can often contain valuable minerals worthy of reprocessing. Technologies that can significantly improve these processes will become incredibly valuable and provide a competitive advantage for producers.

These opportunities can often be overlooked as they are not always as sexy as EVs, bioplastics or carbon capture however they operate in part of the manufacturing value chain where the market risk – relative to others – is negligible; there will be no shortage of mineral demand for the next 50 years. Companies that can address future second-order problems associated with decarbonisation can expect to reap significant reward. After all, it was the people selling the shovels that made the real money.