International Minerals Innovation Institute

Innovation in the Minerals Industry Driving the Critical Energy Transition

Highlights from an interview with Chris Maierhoffer, Principal of Innovation at BHP

Most have heard of the energy transition, the process whereby global industries are shifting from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources. The minerals industry is deeply involved in this transition in two ways: 

  1. Mineral materials are key to powering the innovative technologies driving the energy transition. 
  2. The minerals industry is a key global industry adopting innovative technologies to move away from fossil fuel sources themselves. 

Innovative technologies, processes, and strategies are vital for making this complex relationship successful. We spoke with Chris Maierhoffer, Principal with BHP Global Innovation Team to uncover some of the strategies and opportunities that are making the energy transition possible.


Producing Minerals Materials Through Innovation

The clean energy transition is a positive global shift, and the minerals industry is excited to be a part of it. In fact, the minerals industry is a huge driver for the transition, producing many materials that are the key to powering clean energy technologies. 

Chris explained how BHP is addressing this newfound push for more minerals while also making mining more sustainable in a variety of ways: 

  • Taking an inventory of safety and efficiency processes, and always striving to make improvements. 
  • Researching and investing in new, cleaner energy sources and ways to integrate. 
  • Reducing the amount of overall energy required for mineral extraction. 


The Challenges of Meeting Energy Transition Demands

Addressing the growing demand for mineral materials while continually working towards greater sustainability is a balancing act for minerals companies, including BHP. Within this balance are avenues of exploration that can make a positive impact. 

Chris highlighted how many mining companies, including BHP, are evaluating clean energy sources to implement into their processes. The energy required to extract minerals is significant and can be difficult to decarbonize, depending on the type of energy and geographic location. Chris explained how BHP has developed teams whose goal is to search for innovative solutions to accelerate the decarbonization of their operations.

These teams include: 

  • Xplor BHP, a global accelerator program aimed at innovative startups in the mineral exploration space. It is a 6-month program that assists companies with becoming investment-ready. The program looks outward, focusing on the global stage to find the next great innovators ready to address the energy transition with BHP. 
  • BHP Ventures is BHP’s dedicated venture capital (VC) unit, seeking opportunities to work with innovative companies to improve BHP’s sustainability and look ahead to the future. 
  • BHP’s Global Innovation Team is dedicated to discovering, developing, and delivering innovation into existing and new operations. The team utilizes its ecosystem to find innovative solutions to problems. They explore the implementation of off-the-shelf technologies as well as developing new technologies to suit the application. 


These teams are crucial in making innovative adoptions possible. 


BHP’s Innovative Approaches to Mineral Extraction

BHP devotes a great deal of time and resources to sourcing innovative technologies and strategies that improve their global mining processes. The solutions are never one-size-fits-all; they’re entirely location-specific. Small actions in each operation add up to great impacts. 


“Since I started with BHP, I have been impressed with how much focus there has been on sustainability.”

 —Chris Maierhoffer, Principal with BHP Global Innovation Team 


Some specific BHP approaches include: 

  • Efforts to characterize different ores more efficiently to locate higher grades and capitalize on lower energy requirements to extract them. 
  • Pilot-testing within extraction processes wherever possible. For example, BHP is testing different pieces of flotation equipment in their copper facilities that improve recovery and require less energy. 
  • Transitioning away from high emissions grid electricity into cleaner alternatives. 


Balancing Increased Demand for Minerals & Sustainability 

The growing need for mineral materials and a focus on sustainability have the potential to work against each other. However, BHP and other Saskatchewan minerals companies don’t see it that way—they see it as an opportunity to engage with their teams, global experts, and shareholders to try a different path.

For example, when it comes to investing in projects, many mining companies utilize internal carbon pricing that makes projects that may not be as financially competitive more compelling. In other words, they aim to put both economic opportunity and impact at the forefront. This ensures that decisions that are made today align with the future state and needs for decarbonization.

The current state of the world presents a unique opportunity for companies like BHP to make a real impact. As BHP continues to invest in innovative ideas, technologies, and processes, IMII will be behind them, collaborating wherever possible.