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SMU Researchers Making Use Of Mining Waste

Mining is one of Canada’s most important economic sectors. In 2010, the industry was valued at $41.3 billion and employed 308,000 people. Finding high concentrations of minerals is important for mining companies to save time, money, resources and jobs.

A group of researchers at Saint Mary’s University, led by Jacob Hanley, are studying Platinum Group Elements (PGE), a group of metals that are used for jewellery and as catalysts and electronic components in solar panels, fuel cells and other green energy products. High concentrations of these metals are getting harder to find, making mining for them more expensive. Mining companies sought Hanley’s help to find areas of high concentrations of PGEs and to understand how these metals were deposited in the Earth’s crust. This information would help them save time finding deposits containing enough elements to make them worth mining.

The team’s state-of-the-art lab enabled researchers to better understand the different ways they form. As a result, mining companies will now look for PGE as a byproduct in regular ore mining operations, and they will also look for sources of PGE in pyrite, a common mineral that is typically tossed out as mining debris. These discoveries have made mining for PGE more economically and environmentally sustainable because companies can mine more elements out of a rock, leaving nothing to waste.