New process may transform mining

Scientists have developed a new "keyhole surgery" method to extract metals from certain types of rocks...
27 May 2021
Presented by Charlotte Birkmanis
Production by Charlotte Birkmanis.

MINING

A bulldozer in front of a piled up sand quarry

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For thousands of years, humans have used traditional mining techniques involving sinking tunnels or large pits to recover relatively small amounts of useful metals like gold and copper. What remains is usually, at best, a scar on the landscape, large amounts of waste material, and habitat destruction. At worst, the practices have led to environmental catastrophes. Now an international team, including researchers from the University of Western Australia, have found a way to harness the power of electricity to achieve the same mineral recovery but without the environmental costs. By placing electrodes into rocks containing precious metals, the researchers use an electric current to push through chemicals that dissolve and extract the metals locked up inside. This allows the metals to be retrieved with minimal disturbance to the ground surface. Charlotte Birkmanis spoke to Henning Prommer about his work.

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