Everything You Need to Know About In-Situ Mining
How do you mine without moving a rock?
When most people think of mining they think of massive open pits or deep and winding underground tunnels. But there is one mining method that does not move a rock and leaves the landscape as is.
Today’s infographic from Excelsior Mining Corp. outlines a unique mining method, In-Situ Recovery “ISR”, also known as In-Situ Mining.
An Intro to In-Situ Mining
ISR is not a recent innovation in the mining sector. In fact, ISR has been used for the past 50 years in uranium mining, and 48% of the world’s uranium gets mined this way. Uranium is not the only mineral it can extract; there is also silver, copper, and sometimes gold.
ISR involves dissolving a mineral deposit in the ground and then processing it at surface, all without moving any rock. It is cost effective and environmentally friendly.
But if this method is so great, how come more companies do not mine this way?
The Right Geology
ISR is not widely used because the geological conditions have to be just right. There are few locations around the world that meet the following criteria:
- Highly permeable ore body. In the case of copper, the ore body must be naturally broken, fractured and permeable.
- Mineable. The target mineral must be soluble with the right fluid, typically a weak acid.
- Under the water table. The mineral deposit must be below the water table to allow for the movement of fluids throughout the ore body.
If geologists can find these conditions and it is a large enough mineral deposit, it is time to mine.
The ISR Process
Once the right conditions are met and drill holes are sunk into the ore body, mining can begin.
- Leaching solution is pumped through injection wells
- The solution moves through the naturally fractured rock and leaches the copper
- Recovery wells extract the copper-rich solution
- Solution is pumped to the surface to the plant for processing
- Copper is extracted from the solution to create pure copper sheets
- Mining solution is recycled back to the well field
Once an area is mined, the wells are flushed with water to clean out any remaining leaching solution. Meanwhile, the surface is returned back to pre-mining conditions, allowing it to be used for any purpose in the future.
Advantages of In-Situ Mining
The environmental advantages are clear, including: minimal noise, dust, or greenhouse gas emissions, along with minimal visual disturbance. In addition, it also lowers capital and operating costs while creating a safer environment for mine workers.
Too bad not all mines can operate without moving a rock.
More Than Precious: Silver’s Role in the New Energy Era (Part 3 of 3)
Long known as a precious metal, silver in solar and EV technologies will redefine its role and importance to a greener economy.
Silver’s Role in the New Energy Era (Part 3 of 3)
Silver is one of the first metals that humans discovered and used. Its extensive use throughout history has linked its name to its monetary value. However, as we have advanced technologically, so have our uses for silver. In the future, silver will see a surge in demand from solar and electric vehicle (EV) technologies.
Part 3 of the Silver Series comes to us from Endeavour Silver, and it outlines silver’s role in the new energy era and how it is more than just a precious metal.
A Sterling Reputation: Silver’s History in Technologies
Silver along with gold, copper, lead and iron, was one of the first metals known to humankind. Archaeologists have uncovered silver coins and objects dating from before 4,000 BC in Greece and Turkey. Since then, governments and jewelers embraced its properties to mint currency and craft jewelry.
This historical association between silver and money is recorded across multiple languages. The word silver itself comes from the Anglo-Saxon language, seolfor, which itself comes from ancient Germanic silabar.
Silver’s chemical symbol, “Ag”, is an abbreviation of the Latin word for silver, argentum. The Latin word originates from argunas, a Sanskrit word which means shining. The French use argent as the word for money and silver. Romans bankers and silver traders carried the name argentarius.
While silver’s monetary meanings still stand today, there have been hints of its use beyond money throughout history. For centuries, many cultures used silver containers and wares to store wine, water, and food to prevent spoilage.
During bouts of bubonic plague in Europe, children of wealthy families sucked on silver spoons to preserve their health, which gave birth to the phrase “born with a silver spoon in your mouth.”
Medieval doctors invented silver nitrate used to treat ulcers and burns, a practice that continues to this day. In the 1900s, silver found further application in healthcare. Doctors used to administer eye drops containing silver to newborns in the United States. During World War I, combat medics, doctors, and nurses would apply silver sutures to cover deep wounds.
Silver’s shimmer also made an important material in photography up until the 1970s. Silver’s reflectivity of light made it popular in mirror and building windows.
Now, a new era is rediscovering silver’s properties for the next generation of technology, making the metal more than precious.
Silver in the New Energy Era: Solar and EVs
Silver’s shimmering qualities foreshadowed its use in renewable technologies. Among all metals, silver has the highest electrical conductivity, making it an ideal metal for use in solar cells and the electronic components of electric vehicles.
Silver in Solar Photovoltaics
Conductive layers of silver paste within the cells of a solar photovoltaic (PV) cell help to conduct the electricity within the cell. When light strikes a PV, the conductors absorb the energy and electrons are set free.
Silver’s conductivity carries and stores the free electrons efficiently, maximizing the energy output of a solar cell. According to one study from the University of Kent, a typical solar panel can contain as much as 20 grams of silver.
As the world adopts solar photovoltaics, silver could see dramatic demand coming from this form of renewable energy.
Silver in Electric Vehicles
Silver’s conductivity and corrosion resistance makes its use in electronics critical, and electric vehicles are no exception. Virtually every electrical connection in a vehicle uses silver.
Silver is a critical material in the automotive sector, which uses over 55 million ounces of the metal annually. Auto manufacturers apply silver to the electrical contacts in powered seats and windows and other automotive electronics to improve conductivity.
A Silver Intensive Future
A green future will require metals and will redefine the role for many of them. Silver is no exception. Long known as a precious metal, silver also has industrial applications metal for an eco-friendly future.
Visualizing All the Known Copper in the World
Are we running out of copper? This graphic from Trilogy Metals paints a clear picture of all the copper in the world, above and underground.
Visualizing All the Known Copper in the World
Copper has many important applications in the modern economy. From smartphones and cars, to homes and hospitals, we use the metal almost everywhere, especially with renewable energy.
Often, consumers take for granted the accessibility to modern technology without the thought of where the materials come from or their impact on the environment. The world and its resources are finite and confined by both geography and the technology used to extract resources.
As governments and economies struggle to achieve a sustainable balance between humanity’s material impact and the health of the planet, knowing the availability of resources will become a critical pivot for achieving and maintaining that balance.
Copper is one such resource—and today’s graphic from Trilogy Metals outlines all the copper ever mined and what known resources still exist on Earth.
Are we running out of copper?
Above Ground Copper Resources
The production of mined copper has increased dramatically over the last two decades, From 9.8 million metric tons in 1995 to 20 million metric tons in 2019, a 104% rise over 25 years.
A total of 700 million metric tons of copper have been mined throughout history. Based on the 2019 average price of $6,042/metric ton, that’s worth $4.2 trillion—more than the value of Apple and Amazon combined.
Chile has been the source of the majority of the world’s copper and the biggest copper mining nation. Together, Chile, Peru, and China account for 48% of current global copper production.
|Ranking||Country||Mine Production 2019 (Ktons)||Country||Reserves 2019 (Ktons)|
|Other Countries||3,800||Other Countries||220,000|
|World Total||20,000||World Total||870,000|
As we enter the era of renewable energy, electric vehicles, and see more global economic growth, the demand for copper will continue to rise. In fact, the Copper Alliance projects an increase of 50% in just the next 20 years.
Are We Running Out of Copper? Not So Soon
Although a large chunk of the Earth’s copper is already above ground, there’s still more to mine.
According to the USGS, identified copper resources amount to 2.1 billion metric tons, with a further 3.5 billion metric tons in undiscovered resources.
At current production rates, it would take about 105 years for us to use all of it and this does not even account for recycling or new discoveries. Copper is 100% recyclable, and nearly all of the 700 million metric tons of mined copper is still in circulation. With this in mind, it’s safe to say that we won’t be running out of copper anytime soon.
Despite copper’s apparent abundance, the red metal is expensive to actually get out of the ground. As a result, the supply of copper has often fallen short in meeting its rising demand. This, in addition to falling resource grades in Chile, the largest producer of copper, emphasizes the need for new discoveries and mines.
While there are known reserves of copper above the ground, the Earth remains largely unexplored because of the inability to explore for minerals in the depths of the oceans and other planets. As the readily available supply of copper becomes scarce, the incentive to mine currently uneconomic copper increases.
A Mineral Intense Future
Most consumers take the immediate availability of materials such as copper and other metals for granted, with little thought about whether there is enough.
But it’s important to remember that these materials are as finite as the dimensions of the Earth. In this material world, understanding what is and what is not available is critical for a sustainable future here on Earth.
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