Stainless steel is a staple in the mining industry for generations and for good reason. Basically, it’s an alloy that contains many characteristics suitable for harsh mining environments. It’s lightweight, durable, corrosion-resistant, and most importantly, it can easily be fabricated. Stainless steel is a very sustainable material which makes it an integral part of the mining industry as a whole.

In this article, we’ll discuss the purposes of stainless steel and its role in helping the mining industry flourish, one operation at a time.

Stainless steel and the mining industry

Mining processes require a vast array of advanced equipment and machinery to execute. Such machines need to be durable, reliable and be able to perform consistently regardless of the weather conditions. It’s for these reasons that stainless steel is the ideal material in which mining equipment is built on, hence jumpstarting the relationship between this special alloy and the mining industry. 

The mining sector is currently experiencing growth which, as the experts believe, will be followed by a period of instability and market volatility. Automation and operational efficiency are two key factors that will determine how the market can fully recover. Companies that make use of newer technology along with efficient progressive processes are likely to remain competitive than those who settle for outdated methods of operation.

As mineral resources deplete in low-risk mining areas, companies must become more proficient in using digital technology to extract resources in frontier areas. Such technology involves the following processes:

  • In-situ leaching, a mining process that leaches metal values directly from the ore without the need for excavation.
  • Block caving, an underground mining method that locates ore bodies at depth using gravity.
  • Biomining, a breakthrough process that involves the use of microorganisms like fungi and prokaryotes to extract metals from rock ores and mine wastes.
  • Three-dimensional modelling creates realistic impressions of mines to allow miners to better comprehend depth perception.
  • Virtual reality allows miners to immerse themselves in a mine-like environment to better prepare themselves for planning a new mine.
  • Augmented reality is an interactive experience that simulates a real-world environment through computer enhancement. This technology can be adapted by the mining industry for training workers and reducing the overall training costs.
  • Geographical information systems enable the mining industry to acquire geospatial data, thus giving miners valuable insight into a specific mine environment. It provides crucial information on things like mineral exploration, hydrology and geochemical data, as well as regulatory compliance and sustainability.

Applications of stainless steel in the mining industry 

Stainless steel (along with its cousin the duplex stainless steel) is a popular choice in the mining industry due to its aforementioned characteristics. Being lightweight and durable at the same time lends to stainless steel’s desirable properties. Interestingly, stainless steel is also easy to clean which makes maintenance a breeze on large machines and equipment. This material is also used to store various substances as it helps reduce the risk of contamination.

One fact about stainless steel is that it’s a versatile alloy that can be used for many different applications. Some of the uses of stainless steel in the mining industry are:

  • Hard-wearing tools
  • Shovels
  • Demolition equipment
  • Pipes
  • Vessels
  • Mining screens
  • Fluidised bed boilers
  • Pumps
  • Mass excavators
  • Tanks
  • Drill rigs
  • Bulldozers
  • Grinding media
  • Heat exchangers
  • Crushers
  • Workbenches
  • Cathode plates

Mining sites use structural components built with stainless steel thanks to its exceptional strength and durability. Duplex stainless steel has been gaining popularity in the mining industry as well due to its higher strength properties than carbon steel and extremely high levels of corrosion resistance.

How stainless steel minimises the environmental impacts of mining

With the majority of countries around the world looking to decarbonize their energy systems and transition to low-emission renewable energy sources, a great opportunity has arisen for the mining industry. This is because low-emission energy and transportation systems are more mineral-intensive than their fossil fuel-based counterparts.

While the demand for mining gets stronger, the industry must also ensure that it does everything it can to reduce its own emissions. Mining companies are increasingly prioritising new systems that will help them do this. Powering their operations and fleets from renewable energy sources like operate electric or hydrogen is one way, integrating robust recycling systems into their supply chains is another.

Efficient ore-processing practices can also help to limit the environmental impact as it reduces the volume of material that has to be transported and processed by potentially hazardous thermal and chemical refining methods. Stainless steel’s strength and ability to resist to corrosion makes it the ideal material for pumps, screens, filters and other equipment that is used in the processing of mineral ores and concentrates.

Further to this, stainless steel is theoretically 100% recyclability and has an extremely long-life, even in harsh environments. When the end of life is reached by stainless steel, it can be an extremely useful recyclable product. The main alloying elements in stainless steel – chromium, nickel and molybdenum – are highly valuable and can be efficiently separated and then reused.