While it’s crucial that we transition to renewable energy to reverse climate change, many of these technologies require rare metals, the mining of which has worrisome environmental impacts. That, however, could soon become a problem of the past, thanks to new Oxford research which investigates a new way to mine valuable metals trapped in hot brines beneath volcanoes — all while creating geothermal power as a by-product.
As explained by New Atlas, many of the metal deposits currently used are the remnants of ancient volcanic activity that have long since solidified. As part of the new study, the scientists at Oxford University sought to go after more recent, untapped sources, while it’s still in liquid form.
Active volcanoes around the world discharge to the atmosphere prodigious quantities of valuable metals” says study author Jon Blundy. “Some of this metal endowment does not reach the surface but becomes trapped as fluids in hot rocks at around 2 km (1.2 miles) depth. Green mining represents a novel way to extract both the metal-bearing fluids and geothermal power, in a way that dramatically reduces the environmental impact of conventional mining.”
According to the study, these brines could potentially contain millions of tonnes of copper, as well as useful amounts of other important metals like gold, zinc, silver, and lithium. Extracting the metals from a fluid solution would not only be cheaper than processing solid ore, but it would also generate less waste and use less energy. Plus, the natural geothermal energy in the area could be tapped to help power the process.
The Oxford researchers have spent the last five years analyzing and minimizing the risk of the process, and are now ready to find a location to trial the first exploratory drill.
Source study: Open Science — The economic potential of metalliferous sub-volcanic brines