As the quest to develop transparent and responsible supply chains for critical metals hots up, there’s one technology that I’ve been keeping a beady eye on… blockchain is currently the most promising and proven option for irrefutably demonstrating the provenance of metals and minerals.
Nathan Williams, CEO, of Minespider, developer of a blockchain-based traceability and optimisation platform for metals supply chains, talked me through the basics of blockchain and what it could mean for the industry back in 2019.
Since then, I’ve followed the company’s progress, and I was delighted to see that last week (on 12 September 2023, to be specific) Minespider announced it’s expanding its collaboration with Minsur, the world’s second largest tin producer.
For context: in 2018, Minsur and Minespider were both part of a consortium which ran a traceability pilot project at the San Rafael mine site in Peru, with partners including Google, Cisco, SGS, and Volkswagen.
Following its success, Minsur has now chosen to integrate blockchain traceability into all of its operations in Peru and Brazil. The company will track more than 29,000 metric tonnes of tin per year which it supplies to 50 customers, making it one of the largest full-scale traceability projects in the world.
It was time for a catch up and, luckily for me, Christian Ecker, Minespider’s Metals and Mining Lead, was on hand to answer questions…
CL: Congratulations on the Minsur deal! I assume the first phase of your work together was a success given that the companies have agreed to expand their collaboration?
CE: Yes, it has been very successful. Minsur is a pioneer in that regard, and very committed to providing traceability for their metals. We actually started working together in 2018 and, over the past 12 months, we’ve started to expand on the process and use the platform for all outgoing shipments.
We’re very happy to see where this has led us so far and excited to further expand this, moving forward.
What capabilities has the Minespider platform provided to Minsur that the organisation didn’t have previously?
The platform allows them to create Product Passports and provide their clients with data, along with the material shipment. This allows them to distinguish their products in the market and attach data to them, showcasing its responsible provenance. This is an important part of Minsur’s overall sustainability strategy, more specifically for data transparency.
Have the team provided feedback on usability and how the protocol fits into their workflow?
Yes, it’s been incorporated into their workflow, and right now, the next step will be an integration with our application programming interface (API), so the integration will be even more seamless.
In a company the size of Minsur, with very well-established and sophisticated production processes, it’s especially important that a new platform has as little impact on existing workflows as possible, so we’re constantly trying to improve that.
How has the Minespider protocol evolved since our last Intelligent Miner interview in 2019? Are there any new features or additions that we can flag for readers?
So, there are a number of additions we can speak to here:
Firstly, we’ve introduced the Open Battery Passport (OBP). We’ve developed the Battery Passport to enable companies to comply with the EU Battery regulation and, with the OBP, we’re providing the tool free of charge.
We also developed a tracking tool, designed to capture upstream data between the mine and smelter. We’re increasingly focusing on capturing and communicating carbon emissions data and are now also offering Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs).
On top of that, we’ve been involved in a lot of different grant projects, mostly funded by the European Commission.
For example, we’re the tech provider for Batraw, which aims to improve the recyclability of electric vehicle batteries, and Recirculate, where we work on creating new business models for repair, reuse, and recycling of second-life batteries.
What’s next – what are your teams working on in terms of R&D?
In the context of Minsur: we’re committed to expanding our partnership and collaboration. We’re now preparing for the API integration, to ensure smooth usability of the platform in the long run. At the same time, we plan to expand the use of the platform to additional Minsur sites, starting with their tin operations in Brazil.
Generally, we’re working to add AI-based tools and a chatbot to the platform. This will especially be helpful to facilitate implementation in the context of artisanal and small-scale mining, as it allows for easier and quicker creation of Product Passports via text messages.
It will also allow us to make more use of the information stored in the Product Passports.
What potential do you see for blockchain in mining and metals going forward given the enhanced focus on ESG in supply chains?
A lot of the upcoming regulations, for example in the EU or US, will require supply chain data – you can’t get that without traceability.
Blockchain is a valuable tool to facilitate that traceability, so I expect to see further uptake along the entire supply chain, from mine to end product. Likely we will also see increased uptake from government-led initiatives or nation wide traceability systems.