Research ArticleENGINEERING

Toward a more sustainable mining future with electrokinetic in situ leaching

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Science Advances  30 Apr 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 18, eabf9971
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abf9971

Abstract

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.

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