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In-pit In Situ Recovery – a New Approach That May Allow for Increased Value Extraction before Pit Closure

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Author L L Kuhar and D J Robinson

Description

Regardless of orebody value, at some stage, the pit will reach a depth where the reward for mining wider and/or deeper is not justified by the anticipated returns. ‘Last-blast’ strategies may help to some degree in recovering additional quantities of the resource but when a pit remains, there is often significant value left in the ground. In addition, in many cases, one or many good reasons may dictate why going underground and pursuing the orebody below the pit is also not justifiable. Whereas the company can hopefully move on to other more prospective parts of the orebody, the remaining options for the pit are usually very limited. Typically the pit is either held for potentially more favourable future pit expansion opportunities or it could be used for an alternative purpose, such as tailings or waste storage. This paper will present an alternative option that involves the direct extraction of values using in situ recovery (ISR) methods to recover additional value metals from the walls and/or floor of the pit. ISR involves circulating a fluid through the remaining orebody, solubilising the target metal and subsequently returning the solution to the surface for metal recovery. ISR is not the panacea to all but it has been employed selectively in the minerals industry for some time and the production of metals, such as uranium, rely heavily on this approach. ISR is not yet considered by many operators as an approach to compete with open pit or underground mining, largely because of the perceived limitations of this approach and the perceptions of risk. Rapid recent development of tools and enabling technologies relevant to ISR have made us reconsider the most economic approach to extracting many other metals from known mineral systems, even those currently listed as subeconomic. We suggest that ISR has the potential to make mine operators rethink the end of the pit life and adopt an innovative ISR approach to work toward a more complete recovery of value metals from existing pits.

Citation:

Kuhar, L L and Robinson, D J, 2016. In-pit In Situ Recovery – a New Approach That May Allow for Increased Value Extraction before Pit Closure, in Proceedings Ninth AusIMM Open Pit Operators’ Conference 2016, pp 275–283 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).