Field Trip Report – Nepean Sand and Gravel

Douglas Naylor – Visit to Nepean Sand and Gravel

Natural minerals are a critical resource for the industrial development of the human race. From the industrial revolution, both sand and gravel have been instrumental in the development of the human race to date. Both sand and gravel are key ingredients in concrete, and developments in cement-based construction have led to the urbanisation of humanity. In this essay I will examine the extraction of natural resources for the betterment of mankind, as well as looking at the environmental impact of these activities.

Ever since the first humans moved from caves and into purpose-built housing, the extraction of natural materials has progressed hand-in-hand with the development of the species. Initially humans had to make do with the raw materials that they could identify, such as mud and clay.

However, as science and time progressed, it was discovered that other materials could be combined to create stronger structures. By reinforcing mud with wood structures could survive longer.

Cement has been a part of human life since at least 1200 BC, but it wasn’t until roughly 700 BC that lime-based cement was mixed with aggregate materials to increase the strength of the mix. The romans used concrete to push the boundaries of architecture, and by 400 AD their building technology had advanced into an artform.

Some notable historical uses of concrete are the Roman aqueducts, which helped create the world’s first urban regions, and the Cathedral (Dom) in Cologne, which is still being built more than 800 years since its foundations were laid.

The extraction of natural materials has also grown with the demand placed upon the earth by humanity. Mining makes up 50% of Australia’s exports, and thus is a critical part of the economy. However, this industry is highly competitive, as almost all minerals are totally commoditised, i.e. there is no difference between sand mined in Africa or Australia. This has led to the development of very advanced extraction tools in order to gain a competitive edge.

However, there is currently a shortage of sand in the world. Each year, 40 billion tonnes of sand is used in construction. Industrial sand and gravel are the most extracted materials in the world, and these supplies are running out. This has led to sand piracy, where large amounts of sand are stolen from countries to be used in construction and beaches across the globe. Between 2011 and 2013, China used more cement than the United States did in the entire 20th century.

There are also different qualities of sand. Desert sand found in the Middle East can’t be used for building, so the Burj Khalifa was constructed with sand mined in Australia (including from Nepean Sand and Gravel).

As sand reserves are depleted globally, newer techniques are required to meet the demand. For this reason, mining companies are investing in new technologies and exploring new sites that were previously too risky. At the same time, more care is being taken to protect the environment. More consultants are being used to plan for the extraction of minerals as well as the use of the land after all useable minerals have been mined. For example, the Penrith Lakes Development Corporation has been formed to ensure that the land can be used by humans once the mines close.

When all is said and done, the increasing population of the world means that there will be greater demand on natural resources. However, in some instances there are “easy” ways to extract these resources; for example if a new deposit is found (as is the case with Nepean Sand and Gravel). With proper planning, the maximum amount of minerals can be extracted whilst minimising the impact on the environment.

Bibliography:

Nepean Sand and Gravel Website

Wikipedia (Mining)

The Economist – Why is Sand in Short Supply?

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