Mining metals without a shovel in sight

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Researchers have developed a technique for extracting precious metals from hard rock ore without digging.

Published in Science Advances, the research team included the CSIRO and the University of Western Australia (UWA), University of Exeter and University Denmark.

UWA professor Henning Prommer and the CSIRO said the technique used underground electrodes to slowly attract electrically charged metals like copper.

“The metals are extracted within the ore body, instead of the traditional means of having to dig them out and milling huge amounts of material, a technique which traditionally has placed huge pressure on the environment,” Prommer said.

The CSIRO stated that 99 per cent of mining activity used digging methods, contributing around 100 gigatonnes of waste every year around the world.

Prommer said the new method has environmental benefits.

“Traditional methods of excavating ore material result in a large amount of solid waste brought to the Earth’s surface which needs to be disposed of, whereas this new method dramatically decreases wastage,” Prommer said

“This is really exciting because we can use intermittent power sources such as solar and wind to extract minerals,” Professor Prommer said.

UWA professor Andy Fourie said this could be a great step into the future of our industry.

“It will not only improve mining outcomes, it will help us shift towards a more sustainable way of mining,” Fourie said.

The technique has already had success in a controlled laboratory and the researchers have confidence it will have positive results in the field for the mining of a number of metals.

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