The mining industry is generally separated into three sectors: (1) hard-rock mining, which includes metallic minerals such as copper, gold, and zinc; (2) industrial minerals, such as clays, sand, fluorspar, and cement; and (3) fuel minerals, such as coal and uranium. Annual U.S. sales for the industry are approximately $430 billion. The U.S. hard-rock sector, mining complex minerals, depends on advanced technology to help maintain global competitiveness. With the increased environmental focus of the past several years, the closure of the Bureau of Mines and several mining schools, and the downsizing of the industry's own research organizations, mining companies have been forced to seek needed technology elsewhere, often overseas.
The hard-rock industry is constantly seeking new technology to remain competitive. Approximately 80% of all hard rock, approximately 50% of the coal, and all of the uranium mining in the U.S. is located within the boundaries of the eight Western states.
INL has assisted many mining companies in solving problems with both processing and environmental remediation. INL biotechnologists assisted a local phosphate producer to recover phosphate from low grade waste products using a bioleach technique. Bioleach technology has also been supplied to two large copper companies to help them improve leaching operations. INL has licensed technology to a small instrument manufacturer that supplies mining companies with innovative technology for on-line analysis. Under DOE-Industries of the Future program, INL assisted the industry by developing a new method to electrowin copper, reducing energy consumption by nearly 50%. Under corporate funding, INL is developing a novel extraction technology that may eliminate the need for solvent extraction in many mining processes. This technology will help reduce hazardous chemicals usage and fire potential. In addition, INL has provided assistance to the state of Idaho in treating heavy metal contamination, such as that occurring near Cobalt, Idaho, and the old Triumph mine near Bellevue, Idaho.
INL offers a portfolio of innovative technologies and capabilities to the mining industry. Broadly, these technologies and capabilities are aimed at improving the efficiency of their operations, enhancing their exploration efforts and reducing their environmental concerns. Areas of particular interest to the Integrated Environmental Science and Technology Business Line:
- Bioprocessing of mine waste
- Separation technology for metals and waste
- Sensors for monitoring mining related environmental consequences
The mining industry is seeking new technology as the U.S. mining industry upgrades its operations to meet foreign competition. INL is continuing research that would help industry partners stay on the cutting edge.
- Richard Rankin, (208) 526-3049, Send E-mail