Here’s how AI can disrupt these heavy industries

By Mikhail Taver and Roman Teslyuk

Gwalia underground mine Western Australia
Image source: 123RF

Even if mining exploration capital expenditures are at an all-time high, the discovery rates for copper, nickel, and lithium are at the lowest levels ever, which makes it considerably harder to find new deposits. In our quest for a renewable energy future, this is not good news, as the scarcity of these minerals presents a considerable challenge. 

The three minerals are important in our fight against climate change. Nickel, when embedded in a wide range of applications, generates a significant reduction in greenhouse emissions. Lithium-ion batteries are more environmentally friendly than some of their counterparts, and play a key role in solar and wind power solutions. Copper, as we know, is 100% recyclable, which makes it compatible with a circular economy. 

Nevertheless, to be able to fully transition to cleaner energy sources, mineral deposits need to be scaled ten times from their current levels. Currently, we do not have enough copper and cobalt to meet our needs, and the same is the case for rare earth metals. 

This opens up a tremendous field of opportunity, one in which emerging technologies can be used to enhance the discovery processes that can help an industry as heavy as mining to lift itself up from the stagnation stage in which it is lingering right now. 

In this regard, artificial intelligence (AI) has the technological capabilities that are needed to create deep transformation and revolutionize how we explore, extract, and utilize these valuable resources. If implemented properly, AI can take mining to the next level, especially by solving the following problems: 

Problem #1: Detecting deposits consumes a lot of time and money

AI-powered Solution #1: Leveraging automation, AI systems are capable of analyzing vast amounts of continental training data and decades of exploration data in days. This generates a massive cost reduction and also enhances the accuracy of the analysis significantly. By providing a comprehensive report of where potential deposits can be located, and simultaneously processing multiple data layers, AI facilitates more precise targeting, considerably improving the odds of locating new deposits. 

Problem #2: Drilling creates a bottleneck. Yes, it is necessary to confirm a deposit, but it is expensive, slow, and can be damaging to the environment. 

AI-powered Solution #2: AI-enabled technologies, such as Earth AI’s Mobile Low Disturbance Drilling System, present a next-generation modular alternative to the conventional drilling practice. This innovative system considerably reduces environmental damage–to virtually zero–when compared to conventional practices, and also eliminates downtime, which brings costs down. At the same time, it is a lot faster than conventional drilling, which speeds up the pace at which results are obtained. 

As an example, by integrating AI-powered technologies, mining companies can now complete a drilling process in as little as one and a half months, a significant time saving compared to the six to nine months that it takes now. Furthermore, since AI prioritizes localized drilling, the deposit development stage is more efficient. 

Implementing AI-driven drilling also reduces our dependence on fossil fuels, something essential if we are to transition to cleaner energy. By integrating AI, mining companies will require fewer vehicles, cut down their setup times, and optimize resource allocation. This helps us eliminate the harmful effects of traditional extraction methods, and permits us to mine enough metals to propel the shift to renewable energies. 

Problem #3: Conventional mining infrastructure is not sustainable

AI-powered Solution #3: As we commented before, traditional mining machinery and equipment are very heavy, which is why it has been signaled as a cause of major environmental destruction. On the other hand, AI companies are outstandingly contributing to developing ecological mining infrastructure. This has resulted in the adoption of sustainable technologies, such as solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles, and lithium batteries. 

To bolster this transition, governments worldwide are taking stimulating measures. In the United States, there is the Inflation Reduction Act, also known as the IRA. This decree intends to incentivize the adoption of sustainable energy technologies, combating inflation while, at the same time, increasing the attractiveness of investing in industries that help accelerate the transition to greener energies. In the same vein, in the European Union, there is the Critical Raw Materials Act, which aims to secure sustainable supply chains. 

For AI startups, this is a solid value proposition, and it creates a win-win scenario that delivers a triple-bottom line, one that is focused on people, planet, and profit. It also shows that economic and social responsibility come together, and that we can accomplish both objectives at the same time. By transforming mining into a greener industry, AI companies are helping us move closer to a sustainable planet for all. 

Problem #4: Workplace safety is a problem in mining, and we need to acknowledge that

AI-powered Solution #4: Vehement critics of the mining industry have often tarnished the sector’s reputation by recalling some of the most terrible and unfortunate accidents that have blemished its history, such as the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in West Virginia or the Pike River Mine accident in New Zealand in the same year. Each of these events caused 29 deaths, and they could have been prevented if AI-driven solutions were already in place. 

It is clear that AI can revolutionize workplace safety in the mining sector. The first way in which they accomplish this is by autonomously monitoring atmospheric conditions, powered by technologies like machine learning and advanced algorithms. This permits AI technologies to continuously track the environment, and by doing this, they can identify hazardous areas, provide timely warnings, and help prevent accidents before they occur. Ultimately, this saves human lives.

To safeguard the integrity of workers, integrating AI tools is a must, as it switches companies from a reactive to a proactive approach. At the same time, these adjustments will help to clean up the industry’s reputation, and to ensure that workers have a safe place to do their jobs. 

Problem #5: The Earth’s resources are getting scarce

AI-powered Solution #5: As the Earth’s mineral resources keep dwindling, the need to find minerals that are critical to attaining our sustainability objectives becomes more pressing. By leveraging AI, not only can we catalyze and substantially improve the location of untapped deposits on our planet, but also, eventually expand our reach beyond Earth’s boundaries. We could see ourselves using AI to mine metals outside Earth, on the Moon and on asteroids, opening up new frontiers that can change humanity’s future. 

How to integrate mining and AI

By partnering with mineral explorers, AI startups can help make discoveries and get a small royalty in return. This gives new ventures a boost to dramatically increase their outputs and grow their revenues. 

As an example of these collaborations, AI startups that work with heavy industries will develop non-linearly: first, with steady growth, and then, with a sudden spike in their revenues, which can be upwards of $30 million if an exploration project is successful. That is the case of our portfolio company Earth AI, in which the first revenue increase will most likely be linked to the confirmation of reserves on our licensed site, and the second increase will be based on the subsequent successful sale of the deposit. 

Final thoughts

As a conclusion, we can be sure that AI will keep disrupting mature industries. These sectors are ripe for a paradigm shift, and artificial intelligence holds the key to transforming them and catalyzing them to new heights. By integrating AI into their operations, heavy industries like heavy engineering and mineral mining can experience a remarkable resurgence. 

Therefore, investing in deep tech is the most promising opportunity right now. Providing capital to AI emerging startups can be compared to giving cash to Henry Ford in the 1920s–the equivalent of backing the pioneers that will change the world forever. The benefits of this transition are not only financial. Besides the substantial returns that AI companies will generate, billions of lives will be impacted for the better, and every industry, and ultimately, our world, will evolve as a result. 

About the authors

Mikhail Taver

Mikhail Taver, a career investor, with an expertise in deep tech and strategic consulting. He is the founder and managing partner of Delaware-based Taver Capital, an international venture capital fund focused on investing in global artificial intelligence companies.

Roman Teslyuk

Roman Teslyuk, founder and CEO of EARTH AI, a high-performance explorer for clean energy metals utilizing proprietary AI Mineral Targeting and Low Disturbance Drilling technologies.

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