A UK academic group investigating “small deposit” mining – or keyhole mining – has received EUR7 million of funding under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program to advance work on “an ethical and sustainable international mining revolution” said mining-journal.com.
Led by geologists from Cornwall’s Camborne School of Mines, the IMP@CT project team expects to tap into a number of small, international metal deposits as part of efforts to develop their “switch on-switch off [SOSO]” mining approach. They are working with 10 partner organisations in the UK, France, Germany and Finland.
The SOSO concept revolves around small-scale mining that enables metal producers to respond rapidly to market demands, and excavate materials that are desired and required most in a given period.
“This research is exciting because it has the potential to unlock many small deposits globally, which would ultimately improve the security of supply of materials for manufacturers,” said Dr Kathryn Moore, a lecturer in critical and green technology metals at the Camborne School of Mines, and project lead.
“The project connects the companies creating the necessary technological innovations with academia and a national survey, who will investigate and model the broader step-changes required to roll out the new mining system in a sustainable way.”
While large mining companies continue to search for, and develop, large-scale deposits and mines, many firms – and their investors – are keen to unlock the potential of smaller-scale orebodies using more economical methods.
The IMP@CT project is looking to develop targeted, technological innovations in mining equipment design, as well as mine planning; reducing the scale of feasibility studies and ultimately energy and infrastructure requirements of projects. Researchers also think the approach can improve the quality of extracted materials while cutting land use, resource consumption and waste. The team believe that this model can be adopted by European and national policy makers, as well as the wider mining industry in general.
“Ethical issues are at the heart of the project,” said Dana Finch, project manager at the Camborne School of Mines.
“One of our partners will be conducting a social survey in the Balkans, in the region of the first test mine for the project, and we have involved experts in the fields of geo-ethics and social and environmental sustainability from the outset, to inform the way the technology might be implemented in the future.”
IMP@CT, by the way, stands for Integrated Modular Plant and Containerised Tools for Selective, Low-impact Mining of Small High-grade Deposits.