Pioneering project to start ‘small deposit’ mining revolution receives €7 million funding

A pioneering new project, designed to lead an ethical and sustainable international ‘mining revolution’, has received a multi-million pound funding boost. The pivotal [email protected] project, led by geology experts from the Camborne School of Mines, based at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, will look to tap into a significant number of small, international metal deposits.

It aims to establish an innovative method of mining – described by the team as “switch on-switch off’ (SOSO) mining – to excavate raw materials that play a crucial role in the production of many household and technological goods. This SOSO mining will also enable miners to respond rapidly to market demands, and excavate materials that are desired most in any given period.

The project, which features 10 partner organisations from the UK, France, Germany and Finland, is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.

Dr Kathryn Moore, a lecturer in Critical and Green Technology Metals at the Camborne School of Mines and project lead explained: ‘This research is exciting because it has the potential to unlock many small deposits globally, which would ultimately improve the security of supply of materials for manufacturers.

“The project connects the companies creating the necessary technological innovations with academia and a national survey, who will investigate and model the broader step-changes required to roll out the new mining system in a sustainable way.’

At present, mining methods revolve around extracting materials from substantial ‘world-class’ ore deposits – such as the Lisheen zinc mine in Ireland, which closed in January 2016.

Furthermore, production of metals from world-class mines is concentrated in certain countries, such as the antimony mines in China that produced more than 75% of global supplies in 2014.

The closure of mines, coupled with increasing prices from metal-producing countries, helps creates market demand and opportunities for mining companies.

To set up new worldclass mines, companies have to develop innovative mining techniques to deal with potentially low grade deposits, invest in large-scale infrastructure to meet demand for quantities, and conduct expensive feasibility studies to prove long-term commercial viability for potential sites.

However, the global economic downturn over the last decade has meant that large-scale investment in these areas is limited – which has had a devastating effect on the raw materials sector.

The [email protected] project’s SOSO method to mine many critical metal and other small complex deposits will look to develop targeted, technological innovations in mining equipment design, as well as mine planning. The innovations will not only reduce the feasibility studies required, but also improve the quality of the extracted material, infrastructure, land use, resource consumption and waste. The team believes that this model can be adopted by European and national policy makers, as well as the wider mining industry in general.

Dana Finch, also from the Camborne School of Mines and the Project Manager added: ‘Ethical issues are at the heart of the project. One of our partners will be conducting a social survey in the Balkans, in the region of the first test mine for the project, and we have involved experts in the fields of geo-ethics and social and environmental sustainability from the outset, to inform the way the technology might be implemented in the future.’

[email protected]: Integrated Modular Plant and Containerised Tools for Selective, Low-impact Mining of Small High-grade Deposits is co-ordinated by the University of Exeter, and runs until 31 May 2020.

Picture courtesy of Minceco.