A new mining method that uses ‘electromigration’ to unearth metals could replace traditional digging, according to researchers at the University of Western Australia and CSIRO.
The technique, published in Science Advances, works by installing electrodes within hard rock orebodies and then applying electric currents to induce the transport of electrically charged metals, such as copper.
This electromigration process could replace traditional digging methods, according to the researchers.
Professor Henning Prommer from UWA’s School of Earth Sciences said the technique could reduce environmental degradation and decrease wastage.
“The metals are extracted within the orebody, instead of the traditional means of having to dig them out and milling huge amounts of material, a technique which has traditionally placed huge pressure on the environment,” Professor Prommer said.
“Traditional methods of excavating ore material result in a large amount of solid waste brought to the earth’s surface which needs to be disposed of, whereas this new method dramatically decreases wastage.
“This is really exciting because we can use intermittent power sources such as solar and wind to extract minerals.”
The researchers said the technique, which was tested in laboratory experiments and through computer modelling, could work for a wide range of metals.