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Mining with Liquids

New minerals research at the South Australian Museum is set to change the face of the mining industry, with Head of Earth Sciences Professor Allan Pring and his team working on the concept of ‘liquid mining’.

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“Imagine being able to get copper out of an ore body without having to dig any holes – that’s the holy grail that we are working towards,” says Professor Pring.

The disturbance that mining can cause to the natural environment is one of the most controversial aspects of the industry. The South Australian Museum team is working on a method to inject liquid into underground ore deposits and dissolve the minerals out of the ground, meaning very little natural disturbance at all. They are studying the precise chemical and physical conditions that help form valuable ore deposits, like those at South Australia’s Olympic Dam, 560km north of Adelaide. Around 180,000 tonnes of copper are produced from Olympic Dam each year.

“The processes that form huge ore bodies like Olympic dam, which is approximately 6 km long and 3 km wide, actually operate at the atomic or molecular scale,” says Professor Pring.

That’s why scientists at the South Australian Museum are also able to make copper in our laboratories, using high temperatures and pressure. However, their new approach is much more unique – they’re working to make minerals from water-based solutions.

“If we can form a mineral from an aqueous solution, then we will know the conditions needed for a mineral to become stable. We can then work out the reverse process needed to make the mineral unstable, and...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

South Australian Museum