Tech­nol­ogy & In­no­va­tion


A GROUP of re­searchers and min­ers have joined forces in a two and a half year study that aims to iden­tify and re­solve key chal­lenges with in-situ re­cov­ery (ISR) min­eral ex­trac­tion in min­ing.

The re­search pro­gram, led by Min­ing3 and ISR spe­cial­ists En­vi­ron­men­tal Cop­per Re­cov­ery (ECR), will be un­der­taken at Ter­ramin’s Ka­punda cop­per mine in South Aus­tralia with Thor Min­ing, the Univer­sity of Ade­laide and CSIRO.

The pro­gram would in­volve a “tan­gi­ble demon­stra­tion of ISR min­ing” at Ka­punda, pro­vid­ing ex­am­ples to in­dus­try of how to un­lock value in stranded as­sets.

Ka­punda – Aus­tralia’s first com­mer­cial cop­per mine – has been moth­balled since the early 1900s, and been ex­am­ined by min­ing com­pa­nies since, which have looked to re­cover re­main­ing cop­per on site.

Due to its close prox­im­ity to town, con­ven­tional min­ing tech­niques, have not been pos­si­ble.

The pro­posed so­lu­tion, ISR, is a min­ing method where met­als are re­moved from within the ground ‘in-situ’ through the un­der­ground cir­cu­la­tion of a fluid, which en­ables met­als to be re­cov­ered from the fluid at the sur­face.

The ISR process has po­ten­tial to be low-im­pact when used with suit­able de­posits, min­imis­ing com­mon is­sues flagged by com­mu­ni­ties, such as dust and noise.

“Re­cent tech­no­log­i­cal im­prove­ments and the use of en­vi­ron­men­tally be­nign lix­i­viants (leach­ing agents) are broad­en­ing the po­ten­tial ap­pli­ca­tion of ISR min­ing,” Min­ing3 stated.

“The suc­cess­ful de­vel­op­ment of an ISR process to ex­tract cop­per and other met­als from di­verse ge­o­log­i­cal en­vi­ron­ments will be a step change in Aus­tralian min­ing — but in­dus­try and com­mu­ni­ties want to know more about its value and its im­pacts, specif­i­cally en­vi­ron­men­tally.”

ECR man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Leon Faulkner said the re­search project was made pos­si­ble through a re­search grant from the Com­mon­wealth Gov­ern­ment.

Mr Faulkner said he hoped the re­search would broaden views on the de­posit types that can be ad­dressed via ISR, while at the same time sig­nif­i­cantly re­duc­ing min­ing’s im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment.

The re­search will cover com­mu­nity ac­cep­tance of ISR as a min­ing tech­nique; min­eral char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion; lix­i­viant sys­tem de­sign and op­ti­mi­sa­tion; and ac­cu­rate fluid flow mod­el­ling.

The Univer­sity of Ade­laide’s In­sti­tute for Min­eral and En­ergy Re­sources will also ap­ply mag­ne­totel­lurics to model and track poros­ity/per­me­abil­ity and ap­ply its frac­ture net­work mod­el­ling tech­niques and re­source and re­serve es­ti­ma­tion tech­niques to pre­dict re­cov­er­able tonnes and grade.

Im­age: En­vi­ron­men­tal Cop­per Re­cov­ery.

The old pit at Ka­punda.

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