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Electric mining method works without digging says study

Dump truck aerial view
Dump truck aerial view

Researchers have found a way to extract resources without needing to dig-up any mineral ore.

Electric fields can effectively extract metals from hard rock through an innovative mining technique jointly developed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), University of WA, Technical University of Denmark and the University of Exeter.

Electric charge

The electromigration process involves installing electrodes within the ore body. Different electric currents are then applied to remove electrically charged metals like copper out of rock material.

“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,” CSIRO research scientist Henning Prommer said in a public statement.

99 per cent of work avoided

This means a mining company could theoretically avoid up to 99 per cent of its operational activity that would normally be spent digging and disposing of unwanted soil and rock material.

“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.

100 gigatonnes saved

CSIRO estimates the new resource extraction method could reduce mine waste by about 100 gigatonnes annually, potentially removing the world’s largest share of man-made waste.

The new technique has already been published in the Science Advances Journal, and is now being refined with assistance from the Minerals Research Institute of WA.

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Researchers believe further lab experiments and computer modelling will help apply the same technique to extract a variety of metals from “very tight” rock samples.

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

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