Mineral resources are finite and becoming more difficult to mine over time as ore grades decline, bigger mines generate more tailings and waste rock and the breadth of social-environmental-economic impacts and risks grow accordingly. For every mobile phone and laptop computer that is manufactured, somewhere minerals and energy resources have been mined to produce them.
But for some metals critical to modern electronics and technologies, such as indium used in colour flatscreens or rare earths used in magnets in wind turbines or electronics, there is very little data to understand how much we have in mineral resources, how much we are currently mining and using, and how much is being wasted by the disposal of used electronics. These metals are never mined directly, but are always a ‘companion metal’ to primary metals such as copper or zinc. To ensure ongoing supply, Australia will need to assess the current material flows and identify the best potential technologies and systems for recycling.
- building data sets and models to assess the stocks and flows of companion metals
- linking mineral resources and mining to the flows of products and generation of wastes for possible recycling, through Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) and Material Flow Analyses (MFAs)
- comparing the environmental impacts between virgin and recycled materials
This work connects with Yale University to help facilitate a more informed view of future recycling scenarios and the potential for generating greater value from Australia’s rich mineral resources and manufacturing strengths. Ultimately, the key aim is to assess the most sustainable pathways for Australia’s metal flows.
The world’s by-product and critical metal resources part I: Uncertainties, current reporting practices, implications and grounds for optimism
Mudd, Gavin M.; Jowitt, Simon M.; Werner, Timothy T. Ore Geology Reviews. (in press). http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S016913681630066X
- Provides detailed review of current state of mineral resource reporting for by-product and critical metals
- This includes a range of deposits which report critical metals data, demonstrating potential for added value to a mineral deposit and mining project
- Hybrid methods explored to develop more robust estimates of selected potential critical metals
- Technical basis offered for optimism regarding critical metals and their long-term resources
Indium: key issues in assessing mineral resources and long-term supply from recycling
- Geologically scarce metals, such as indium, are commonly used in modern consumer electronics – but little research exists that characterizes the total resources available to meet present or future needs
- A summary of global trends in indium production and demand is provided to offer insights into current and future supplies
- Using Canadian and Australian case studies, an overview of the potential for indium extraction from mine wastes and recycled electronics is presented
- These sources have the potential to provide a substantial supply of indium, and warrant greater consideration
Quantifying the Recoverable Resources of Companion Metals: A Preliminary Study of Australian Mineral Resources
- ‘Companion metals’ – metals which are co-products or by-products of primary ore processing (‘host’ metals) – are crucial in underpinning technological and economic activity, along with human society more broadly
- A methodological approach is described to estimating the recoverable resources of companion metals in metal ores
- Preliminary data for host/companion metal pairs in Australia are used as examples
Tim Werner – PhD Student