The fuse | Supply chain crisis encourages miners to look closer to home


Of traffic jam in American ports to a threat shortage of Christmas trees, supply chain disruptions are causing headaches for businesses and consumers across the country. But while the downturn is causing problems for various industries, it also gives other sectors new impetus to explore new solutions to meet consumer needs.

This trend is clearly seen in the mining industry. For example, Rio Tinto has plans in place to recover essential minerals from waste residues in its large Kennecott copper mine near Salt Lake City, Utah.

The company is building a plant in Kennecott that will recover tellurium, a vital mineral for making solar panels, from the ore mined for its copper. The United States depends on imports of tellurium, especially from China, which dominates world production.

The reassessment of mineral recovery from tailings comes as the disruption of the supply chain has made niche minerals previously rejected and considered not worth developing in favor of the most commercially viable mineral , like copper in Kennecott’s case, becoming more valuable as companies scramble for supply. .

“Suddenly you see a pretty extreme demand for certain things,” Rio Tinto CEO Jakob Stausholm said recently in an interview.

Total extraction

The company’s plan reflects the “full extraction” or “whole concept” approach to mining that is detailed in the Infrastructure Bill. The legislation uses the US Geological Survey (USGS), as part of a comprehensive mineral investigation, to adopt “a whole ore body approach rather than a single product approach, to focus on all of the critical recoverable minerals in a mineral deposit. given surface or underground ”.

The bill also calls on the USGS to “map and collect data for areas containing mine waste to improve understanding of critical mineral resources above ground in previously disturbed areas.”

Since licensing new mines remains a long and expensive process, reviewing tailings that have already been mined makes good sense for mining companies. And if that helps clean up the tailings at the same time, the process could be a win-win for everyone.


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