It aims to establish an innovative method of mining - described by the team as “switch on-switch off’ mining - to excavate raw materials that play a crucial role in the production of many household and technological goods. This switch on-switch off method will also enable miners to respond rapidly to market demands, and excavate materials that are desired most in any given period.
The project, which features 10 partner organisations from the UK, France, Germany and Finland, is funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
Dr Kathryn Moore, a lecturer in critical and green technology metals at the Camborne School of Mines and project lead explained: ‘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.
“The project connects the companies creating the necessary technological innovations with academia and a national survey, which will investigate and model the broader step-changes required to roll out the new mining system in a sustainable way.”
To set up new world-class mines, companies have to develop innovative mining techniques to deal with potentially low-grade deposits, invest in large-scale infrastructure to meet demand for quantities, and conduct expensive feasibility studies to prove long-term commercial viability for potential sites.
However, the global economic downturn over the last decade has meant that large-scale investment in these areas is limited.
The IMP@CT project will look to develop targeted, technological innovations in mining equipment design, as well as mine planning. The team said the innovations will not only reduce the feasibility studies required, but also improve the quality of the extracted material, infrastructure, land use, resource consumption and waste. They believe that this model can be adopted by European and national policy makers, as well as the wider mining industry in general.
Dana Finch, also from the Camborne School of Mines, and the project manager added: “Ethical issues are at the heart of the project. 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: Integrated Modular Plant and Containerised Tools for Selective, Low-impact Mining of Small High-grade Deposits is co-ordinated by the University of Exeter, and will run until 31 May 2020.