GSA Connects 2021 in Portland, Oregon

Paper No. 68-7
Presentation Time: 9:40 AM


HOLLEY, Elizabeth, Mining Engineering Department, Colorado School of Mines, 1600 Illinois St., Golden, CO 80401; Mining Engineering Department, Colorado School of Mines, 1500 Illinois St., Golden, CO 80401

Critical element supply is a grand challenge for society and the planet: how do we responsibly produce the mineral commodities needed to achieve net-zero carbon? We still lack fundamental scientific knowledge on the geological occurrences and characteristics of critical minerals, and many of the existing technologies for critical mineral extraction are prohibitively costly, resource-intensive, and polluting. Environmental, social, and governance issues pose the greatest risk to metal and mineral supply, yet these considerations are not deeply integrated in the default techno-economic analyses of mining projects.

Here we present a holistic framework for evaluating critical mineral supply scenarios, though convergence among the paradigms of resource efficiency, sustainable development, and environmental justice. Using this framework, we present a preliminary evaluation of 1) New mines targeting a critical element as the main commodity, such as the proposed operations in the Idaho Cobalt Belt; 2) Byproduct recovery of critical elements from existing mines, such as large Zn-rich deposits hosting associated Ga, Ge, and In; and 3) Critical element recovery from historic mine wastes, such as Co, Ga, Ge, and In at the Bunker Hill Mining and Metallurgical Complex Superfund Site in the Coeur d’Alene district, Idaho and Washington. For each scenario, we will examine the characteristics and material flows of critical elements, the required mining and metallurgical recovery processes, and the environmental, social, and economic implications of production.