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How to Mine Green Metals for a Net-Zero Future

by Victor Adetimilehin

The mining industry has a complex role in the energy transition. It needs to supply the metals that are essential for green technologies, such as solar panels, electric vehicles, and batteries. But it also faces challenges such as environmental impact, social responsibility, and rising demand.

A team of scientists from the University of Oxford has proposed a radical solution: green mining. They suggest extracting valuable metals from hot salty fluids trapped in porous rocks deep below dormant volcanoes. These fluids, or brines, are rich in copper, gold, zinc, silver, and lithium. They can be pumped to the surface via wells and processed without generating waste or emissions.

The researchers say this method could provide a sustainable and low-carbon source of metals for a net-zero future. They estimate that the brines could contain several million tonnes of copper, which is crucial for electricity generation and transmission. They also say that geothermal power could be a significant by-product of green mining, making the operations carbon-neutral.

The idea of green mining is not new. Several companies have been exploring the potential of extracting metals from geothermal brines in places like California, Nevada, and Chile. However, the Oxford team claims that their approach is more efficient and profitable because they target volcanic regions where the brines are more concentrated and accessible.

The researchers acknowledge that there are still technical and economic challenges to overcome before green mining can become a reality. They also stress the need for careful environmental and social assessment of each potential site. They say that green mining should not replace conventional mining, but complement it as part of a diversified and responsible metal supply chain. Green mining could be a game-changer for the mining industry and the energy transition. It could offer a way to balance the benefits to the planet, people, and profit in a world that needs more metals for a sustainable future.

Source: Mining Weekly

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