A research project from Flinders University in South Australia is focused on exploiting a natural extraction technique for low-grade copper known as super gene enrichment. The technique is currently in test mode to discover the potential of extending mine life and maximising recovery rates.
The natural process of supergene enrichment happens at copper deposits close to the surface where the circulation of groundwater redistributes primary sulphide minerals into copper metal, with the aim of providing a new and innovative approach to the problem of excessive material in tailings and waste piles. About 10 to 15 percent of ore ends up in the tailings and waste piles resulting in metal remaining in the copper ore.
Low-grade ore is often ignored because it is not seen as economically viable, however the supergene enrichment process is aimed to optimise the amount of minerals recovered at a mine site and reduce waste.
The success of this project could potentially make millions for copper deposits and would only extend the life of jobs and infrastructure at remote mine sites and reduce spending on the development of new sites. The Australian Government has provided $485,000 in funding with a further $300,000 being supplied by BHP Billiton.