Electrically Controlled Mining of Rare Earth Metals

Electrically controlled acid mining of rare earth metals.

There is a proof of concept to use an electric field to control the movement of an acid within a low permeability copper-bearing ore deposit to selectively dissolve and recover the metal in situ.

This can transform the mining industry because it has the capability to dissolve metals from a wide range of ore deposits that were previously considered inaccessible.

Furthermore, due to the non-invasive nature of the extraction, the research team are hopeful that the study will help usher in a more sustainable future for the industry.

This is like a human keyhole surgery analogy to mining.

Science – Toward a more sustainable mining future with electrokinetic in situ leaching

Metals are currently almost exclusively extracted from their ore via physical excavation. This energy-intensive process dictates that metal mining remains among the foremost CO2 emitters and mine waste is the single largest waste form by mass. We propose a new approach, electrokinetic in situ leaching (EK-ISL), and demonstrate its applicability for a Cu-bearing sulfidic porphyry ore. In laboratory-scale experiments, Cu recovery was rapid (up to 57 weight % after 94 days) despite low ore hydraulic conductivity (permeability = 6.1 mD; porosity = 10.6%). Multiphysics numerical model simulations confirm the feasibility of EK-ISL at the field scale. This new approach to mining is therefore poised to spearhead a new paradigm of metal recovery from currently inaccessible ore bodies with a markedly reduced environmental footprint.