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Elements Covers

October 2017 - Volume 13, Number 5


Mineral Resources and Sustainability

Georges Calas Guest Editor

Table of Contents


Mineral resources are a vital part of any economy, modern or ancient. Since the birth of civilization, man has used these resources for pigments, metals, glasses, ceramics, cements and much more. The media has recently suggested there is a crisis looming over finding mineral resources, including critical metals. Centered on the sustainability of mineral resources, themes addressed in this issue include customer–supplier relationships, exploration, recycling and the circular economy, and environmental post-mining impacts. The broad range of topics embraced by this issue – formation of mineral deposits, minerals engineering, and environmental and societal impacts – will provide readers a better understanding of the large-scale economic, historical and educational aspects of mineral resources.

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Thematic Articles

Mineral Resources and Sustainable Development


Mineral resources have been used for millennia and are a key to society’s development. With the growing importance of new technologies and the energy revolution, questions have arisen regarding the future availability of resources of metals and industrial minerals. As discovering large high-grade deposits has become increasingly rare, the concept of “sustainable development” will become viewed as essential to extract metals/minerals from new low-grade deposits. In addition to economic considerations, it is essential to reconcile mining activity with environmental protection and to allay the concerns of local populations. This issue of Elements highlights the progressive movement towards an active environmental and societal strategy for sustainably harnessing mineral resources.


How to Sustain Mineral Resources: Beneficiation and Mineral Engineering Opportunities


The sustainability of a mineral resource depends, among other aspects, on what the mineral in question will be used for, price fluctuations, future resource requirements, and downstream manufacturing. A balance must be struck between the long-term commitment of developing a mineral deposit against the short-term threats of a changing commercial and social environment. Long-term resource sustainability is dependent both on increased efficiency, which improves profitability, and on revitalizing marginal mines. This is illustrated through breakthroughs in the processing of low-grade copper and refractory gold ores, as well as nickel laterite ores. Retreatment of mine wastes and tailings can also increase the sustainability of mining activity. Ongoing research and development is also helping to sustain mineral resource exploitation.


Responsible Sourcing of Critical Metals

By , and

Most critical raw materials, such as the rare-earth elements (REEs), are starting products in long manufacturing supply chains. Unlike most consumers, geoscientists can become involved in responsible sourcing, including best environmental and social practices, because geology is related to environmental impact factors such as energy requirements, resource efficiency, radioactivity and the amount of rock mined. The energy and material inputs and the emissions and waste from mining and processing can be quantified, and studies for REEs show little difference between ‘hard rocks’, such as carbonatites, and easily leachable ion-adsorption clays. The reason is the similarity in the embodied energy in the chemicals used for leaching, dissolution and separation.


Global Trends in Metal Consumption and Supply: The Raw Material–Energy Nexus

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The consumption of mineral resources and energy has increased exponentially over the last 100 years. Further growth is expected until at least the middle of the 21st century as the demand for minerals is stimulated by the industrialization of poor countries, increasing urbanization, penetration of rapidly evolving high technologies, and the transition to low-carbon energies. In order to meet this demand, more metals will have to be produced by 2050 than over the last 100 years, which raises questions about the sustainability and conditions of supply. The answers to these questions are not only a matter of available reserves. Major effort will be required to develop new approaches and dynamic models to address social, economic, environmental, geological, technological, legal and geopolitical impacts of the need for resources.


Improving Mitigation of the Long-Term Legacy of Mining Activities: Nano- and Molecular-Level Concepts and Methods

By , and

Mining activities over several millennia have resulted in a legacy of environmental contamination that must be mitigated to minimize ecosystem damage and human health impacts. Designing effective remediation strategies for mining and processing wastes requires knowledge of nano- and molecular-scale speciation of contaminants. Here, we discuss how modern nano- and molecular-level concepts and methods can be used to improve risk assessment and future management of contaminants that result from mining activities, and we illustrate this approach using relevant case studies.


Educating the Resource Geologist of the Future: Between Observation and Imagination

By and

Training geologists for a career in the mining industry has changed over the years. It has become at the same time more specialized and with a broader approach. The modern resource geologist needs to understand new styles of ore deposits, the impact of energy transition on the types of deposits and to implement mining processes, the increasing number of mining regulations, and the shift toward educating populations in countries that are new to mining. Based on observation and imagination, rooted in fundamental science, the education of a resource geologist has been transformed by the digital revolution and the integration of the principles of sustainable development. Training future resource geologists means changing the role of teachers to better develop the imaginations of their students and to increasing what students know about the social impact of mining.

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