What is an emerging tech that has the ability to disrupt the mining industry in the next 15 years?

As we look towards a zero-waste mining future, we should look at the ways that new technologies coming up on the horizon could impact the mining industry and bring about new possibilities.

What is an emerging technology that has the ability to disrupt the mining industry in the next 15 years?

Share any links, thoughts, ideas, experiences, or examples you might have!

go for the metal, no for the ore and no for the rocks
a disrupt technology attending the above sentence is the answer and in my opinion it can be got through an insitu mining

We are working in the in-situ recovery (or keyhole mining) research space. Keyhole mining involves the injection of a fluid underground to dissolve value metal, and its recovery at the surface for further processing. The approach has huge potential benefit - no mining/comminution costs; associated reduction in noise, dust and direct operator involvement; minimal land disturbance (no open pits, waste rock/tailings dumps or slimes dams); no competing land use (land can be used for mining and then farming/real estate etc.); the option for low-capital entry and minimal rehabilitation. There are obvious research areas required to unlock this technology - access creation, solution control and benign leaching agents - but early potential application exists for permeable, easily leachable deposits.

The problem is complex in that an ore is not a continuous surface, but rather something that is discontinuous in space, and in concentration, so that knowing a rough position within the ore field, one needs to determine the best path to excavate/treat the best increment of the surrounding space so as to achieve an optimal extraction of the surrounding ore. (this is a remote sensing problem including lidar, GPR and other existing technologies inputting to an assessment algorithm.)

Having established such a direction, the next step is to disaggregate the material in that direction, so that the mineral can be separated from the relatively no-value host material (gangue). This can be demonstrably achieved (one solution being high intensity cavitation which attacks along grain boundaries followed by, with some ores, a simple size separation, with others a more complex division, but in both cases at the mining machine, so that only the valuable material is transported back to the subsequent processing plant, while the residual waste is incorporated into the underground roof support mechanism).

Surrounding gangue must then be removed to provide access for the equipment, as it advances to mine deeper along the vein of value. This can be removed with a simple crack-and-split technique (see the removal of rock from under the Gateway Arch in St Louis). This material does not need further processing but likely can be intelligently broken into suitable sized pieces to occupy mined volume and provide support to the mining forward.

The extracted valuable components are moved, through piping (to minimize impact on the feed tunnel environment), to a supply shaft and thus to the surface, where the valuable minerals are refined into a commercial product at a much reduced transportation and processing cost.

@FER and @lkuhar Thanks for sharing more about in situ recovery. We researched ISR techniques and processes during our prize design process, especially for those mines that focus on copper. It seems as though there is a lot of innovation in that space.

Assuming rock comminution (crushing and grinding) continues to be needed, find a way to repurpose the tailings into environmentally benign, economically valuable products. Our ideas for tailings high in silica (many but not all ore bodies produce high silica content tailings):

  1. melt the tailings into glass for solar energy reflective mirrors (heliostats and recent research indicates large benefits to mirrors behind PV solar cells). Apply some of the solar energy mirrors to solar thermal melting and production of tailings based glass, in positive feedback loop, and the rest to electricity generation.
  2. production of MCM-41 mesoporous silica, a highly valuable catalyst and sorbent.

@cedwards You have an interesting idea related how to convert tailings.
The problem the world have is the amount of tailing and waste produced by the mining industry
To produce one fine copper ton is necesary to move about 1000 ton of rocks
I calculated that, just in copper, the total waste is closed to 25 km3 /year and one fourth of this is tailing

Waste rocks are to be deposited in dumps! Tailings in dams! With all the problem we all know: mine drainage, contamination, lost of water resources, eolian pollution, large footprints …
My opinion is that mine operators must change their paradigm! Upstream reprocessing valorization of waste must be mandatory or at least highly recommended.
Yes mine operator are interested only by metals, its all what they master … but they extract other material (called barren gangue) that could be useful if legislation is well done, characterization techniques are accurate, be able to reprocess waste, recyclers are interested …
My modeste opinion

Mostafa Benzaazoua
Full professor

  1. I wish the XPrize Community allowed tracked comments on previous comments…

  2. @lkuhar discusses above “solution control and benign leaching agents”. These are clearly the largest issues with in-situ leaching. By definition, if something can dissolve a desirable ore, it is not benign. And how can one control where an in-situ mining solution permeates, when it is injected underground into a minimally-characterized space?