Cornwall is leading a global revolution in the way minerals are extracted in a more ethical and sustainable way.

Mining and geology experts at Camborne School of Mines, based at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus, are leading a pioneering new project, designed to lead an ethical and sustainable international ‘mining revolution’.

The project, which has received £5.9million of EU funding, aims to transform the way the mining industry operates.

‘Switch-on switch-off mining has been designed by geologists at Camborne School of Mines and could revolutionise the mining industry.

Described as ‘switch-on-switch-off’ mining, the new method and techniques enable miners to respond rapidly to market demands and excavate materials that are desired most in any given period.

The techniques are expected to make mining more responsive, more efficient and less damaging to the environment.

Dr Kathryn Moore, a lecturer in critical and green technology metals at the Camborne School of Mines and project lead, said: “This research has the potential to unlock many small deposits globally, which would ultimately improve the security of supply of materials for manufacturers.

“The project connects the companies creating the necessary technological innovations with academia and a national survey, who will investigate and model the broader step-changes required to roll out the new mining system in a sustainable way.”

At present, mining methods revolve around extracting materials from substantial ‘world-class’ ore deposits – such as the Lisheen zinc mine in Ireland, which closed in January 2016.

Production of metals from world-class mines is concentrated in certain countries, such as the antimony mines in China, which produced more than 75% of global supplies in 2014.

The closure of mines, coupled with increasing prices from metal-producing countries, helps creates market demand and opportunities for mining companies.

Could the Camborne School of Mines’ new technique help make mines such as South Crofty in Pool worth re-opening?

To set up new world-class mines companies have to develop innovative mining techniques to deal with potentially low-grade deposits, invest in large-scale infrastructure to meet demand for quantities and conduct expensive feasibility studies to prove long-term commercial viability for potential sites.

However, the global economic downturn over the last decade has meant that large-scale investment in these areas is limited – which has had a devastating effect on the raw materials sector.

Dr Moore said the [email protected] project (Integrated Modular Plant and Containerised Tools for Selective, Low-impact Mining of Small High-grade Deposits) ‘switch-on-switch-off’ method will not only reduce the feasibility studies required, but will improve the quality of the extracted material, infrastructure, land use, resource consumption and waste.

Dana Finch, also from the Camborne School of Mines and the project manager, added: “Ethical issues are at the heart of the project.

“One of our partners will be conducting a social survey in the Balkans, in the region of the first test mine for the project, and we have involved experts in the fields of geo-ethics and social and environmental sustainability from the outset, to inform the way the technology might be implemented in the future.”

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