One of us (TC) wrote an article for HS Today that showed how a relatively little-known player in uranium production became the leader on the world stage. More importantly, it demonstrated how real-world, proven capabilities, now of paramount interest to the United States government, were developed to enable transformational change in the mining sector.
We have previously published a few articles that described new approaches in the extraction of mineral raw materials and the processing of various complex raw materials to produce high-purity grade products (See References 1-4 below). This set of capabilities also allows the creation of new solutions for the production of green energy, along with the extraction of minerals. As mentioned, there are a plethora of recent stories and activities initiated by the U.S. government related to the strategic need of REE (Rare Earth Elements), as well as other materials (See References 5-7 below). Because of the unsatisfied needs related to REE and the urgency of these requirements, we believe it’s important to focus on the major reasons why these capabilities need to be explored in short order.
Reasons to Implement:
We briefly summarize here pertinent information on the set of new technological capabilities for critical mining needs in the U.S. industrial base:
- Significantly Lower Cost: At the core of the developed and tested set of capabilities is a unique ISL (In-Situ Leaching) technology that allows the production of many metals necessary for the economy at 2-4 times less cost than traditional mining technologies, which utilize underground mines and giant open pits.
- Environmental impact: It is generally recognized that ISL technology is the safest for the environment. Reduction of the potential negative impact to the environment and personnel is up to tenfold or more, compared to traditional methods.
- Efficiency: The degree of utilization of the orebody raw materials with the ISL application is much higher, and often reaches 90-95 percent recovery of the targeted metal from the orebody.
- Longevity: One important task of the mining business is a timely identification of new deposits to extend the life of mines and settlements built around them. There are new efficient solutions to solve this problem using various geophysical methods. For example, technology utilizing the application of magnetic, gravitational and satellite imagery of areas allows detecting new deposits and ore bodies (metals, hydrocarbons, diamonds) at many orders of magnitude less cost and more accuracy, as well as several times faster than traditional exploration technologies.
- Expanded and New Uses: This ISL technology allows profitable mining of metals (for example, REE, copper, nickel, cobalt, titanium, gold and platinoids) from very poor ores, the extraction of which is not feasible with traditional technologies. This is extremely important given that, in the coming decades, many reserves of non-ferrous and precious metals existing in the world will be substantially or completely exhausted.
- Green Energy: A large number of wells are used in the ISL mines, from which millions of cubic meters of fairly warm solutions are being constantly extracted to the surface. There are practical and technological opportunities to use these same wells as “heat pumps,” which are widely used around the world to produce green energy. At certain solution parameters, more energy can be produced during the mining process than the mine consumes for its own needs. Thus, the ISL mine can operate simultaneously as a “small power plant.”
- Lower Carbon Dioxide Emissions: This ISL technology practically does not emit any carbon dioxide into the environment, since it does not require any construction of quarries and mines (it does not involve a large quantity of heavy mining equipment). Since the mining sector is responsible for about half of all carbon dioxide emissions in the world currently, more widespread use of this ISL method will enable the opportunity to significantly reduce these emissions.
- Labor Safety and Cost Reduction: Unlike traditional mining, this ISL technology does not require blasting mountain ranges, which is normally accompanied by a risk to personnel and damage to the environment. Such a risk factor for personnel is virtually completely eliminated due to the underground nature of the capability. The required number of personnel at the mine is also reduced by many times, since their work is largely automated. As a result, both personnel costs and labor safety risks are minimized.
- Field-Proven Technology: Over the past 30-40 years, these technologies have been increasingly used worldwide. Having one of the poorest mines in the world, Kazakhstan, for example, was able to increase production of uranium from 700 tons to 22,500 tons per year in a relatively short time, becoming a world leader in this space.
- Opportunities for Rapid Distribution in the USA: These innovative, proven capabilities (unique ISL, the closed chemical and water cycles, the associated green energy production, etc.) in the mining of other metals beyond uranium – such as nickel, cobalt, gold, platinum, REE, titanium and other metals critical to the U.S. economy and its defense. For example, this technology makes the rare and rare-earth metals less expensive and more readily available, which will eventually reduce the cost of most of the derivative products along the production chain – driving the cost lower for electronics, batteries, electric cars, satellites, magnets, planes, quantum computers, etc.
There were various projects carried out already with the above described capabilities to enable the extraction and production of products from tungsten, molybdenum, rhenium, gold, lithium, tin, nickel, cobalt, copper, lead, bismuth, manganese, magnesium, silicon, REE, scandium, zirconium, hafnium, titanium, aluminum, beryllium, tantalum, niobium, fluoride and fluorides, chlorine and chlorides, phosphorus and phosphates, and industrial diamonds. As previously noted, our team had to rely on predominately poor refractory ores and industrial wastes as raw materials, for which various new disruptive technologies had to be developed.
These capabilities are now available today through a U.S.-based firm called Emmet Harvest, LLC (EH). The arsenal of EH’s applied technologies/capabilities include, but are not limited to, such advanced processes as a unique In-Situ Leaching (ISL) process, sorption and extraction cycles, thermal, as well as gas chemical processes (sulfation, fluorination, chlorination, iodination, and sulfonation), catalytic processes, in addition to hydrolytic and electrochemical methods, etc. As stated in many references below, a new technological platform had to be created, and maintained, in order to allow the transition in the mining industry from mechanical processes (that can be expensive and dangerous to humans, as well as to the environment) to methods that are safe and efficient, based on safer hydro-chemical and chemical processes.
The authors truly believe it is time to facilitate the implementation of such scenarios in the United States and elsewhere, if desired, for the rapid mining and production of metals and their compounds crucial for our country. From the aforementioned experience in Kazakhstan over the last 20 years, this kind of scenario will require the involvement of coordinated work groups of highly qualified specialists and scientists in all cycles and stages of production – from geology and geophysics, hydrology and hydrogeology, drilling and well-construction, chemical technologies and production, to metallurgical stages, manufacturing and supply of equipment and machinery, closed water and chemical cycles, construction of mines and factories, environmental protection, digital solutions and informational technologies, marketing, logistics, applied research and development, conceptual and detailed design, training and re-training of specialists, project management and rationing of resources, all ensuring success for users. As a result of years of proven success, there are solutions poised to assist in the long-term security of the United States by bringing a vast amount of trade-secrets and practical know-how to bear that will enable the efficient and cost-effective production of a plethora of metals and their compounds.
The authors would like to sincerely thank all of our former worldwide teammates and colleagues that have assisted us in the practical commercialization of technologies that really make a difference. In addition, we are proud of our global teammates at Emmet Harvest (“EH”), formed through its members’ cumulative 85-plus years of experience in the commercialization of practical, field-proven applied technologies, techniques and devices, for the expert extraction and cost-efficient production of various metals and their compounds required today by mine owners and their customers. Part of this very team enabled a country like Kazakhstan to become the world’s largest producer of uranium at a fraction of other producers’ costs.
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