A New Look at Ore and Ore Deposits
Long gone are the days of loading a pick and a gold pan onto a burro and going off to pan gold nuggets out of a California stream. Nowadays, valuable ore deposits are deeply buried and ores themselves are chemically and mineralogically complex, hard to find and harder still to process. But they contain the raw materials for the next stage of society’s development, from solar panels to self-driving cars. How do we access the metals locked in these complicated, difficult ores?
The nascent field of Geometallurgy is devoted to answering that question through novel methods of chemical and mineralogical ore characterization and through seamless integration of geological, engineering, and metallurgical data. The University of Arizona is home to the only Geometallurgy program in the USA, begun in the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resrouces with funding from Newmont and Freeport-McMoRan. Faculty and students in the Department of Mining and Geological Engineering and the Department of Geosciences are working together to develop new and improved methods of analyzing complex ore mineral suites and testing their implications for mining and metallurgy. Mounting hyperspectral infrared sensors on drones and flying them over metallurgical test sites. Comparing sheet silicate mineralogy with the probability of mine highwall collapse. Building quantitative nanoscale models that pinpoint sources of error in routine characterization techniques. Analyzing leach residues to measure the degree of ore mineral dissolution. Most of all, developing research and teaching models that help geologists, engineers, and metallurgists work together across disciplinary barriers. Through these and other initiatives, UArizona’s Geometallurgy program is dedicated to helping today’s mining industry get ready to tackle tomorrow’s most challenging ores.