Dig deep for innovation

To many of us in the UK the word mining conjures up images of our industrial history — the coal fields of Yorkshire and South Wales or the tin mines of Cornwall.

That heritage is important, but any perception that the mining industry is relevant to the nation’s past and not its future is seriously wide of the mark.

For the past few centuries the UK, Europe and the other Western economies have had more or less a clear run at the world’s mined resources.

Whether iron ore, copper or coal, if we needed it we got it, and if we didn’t need it the mining industry caught a severe cold.

Those days are over, as  ‘Mine of the Future’ makes clear. The projections the industry’s experts are working on are breathtaking.

Each of us in the UK accounts for the use of about 400kg of steel. In China the figure is 200kg and rising. As its infrastructure expands it is expected to race past the 400kg mark and up to a potential peak of 1,000kg per head before it begins to fall back. There are about 60 million people in the UK. There are about 1.3 billion in China. That is a lot of steel.

As ‘Mine of the futrure’ makes clear, this level of demand — we haven’t even mentioned India, Brazil and the Middle East — is forcing the industry to contemplate production on a scale never imagined before. Inevitably, technical innovation is the key to achieving this goal and it is pleasing to know that some of the leading research in the field is going on in the UK.

The massive demands being placed on the mining industry, and the consequent pressure on engineers and technologists to meet them, are mirrored across many sectors.Whether it is the need to provide more energy to more industrial capacity more cleanly and cost-effectively, or help a larger, older population to live healthier lives, the world is posing historic questions and is relying on technology to provide the answers.

As living standards rise towards Western levels in economies that previously consumed tiny amounts of the Earth’s resources, those of us who once had first call on them will find ourselves in a queue.

Indeed, we may be witnessing nothing less than an epic shift of power from West to East.

The UK’s place in this new world will depend to a large extent on how our innovators — our engineers, technologists and scientists — can help to shape it.

Andrew Lee, editor