SIDEBAR 8-1 Potential Revolutionary Developments for Mining

  • In-situ mining of a broader range of commodities

  • Biomining (using biological agents to extract metals, minerals, and coal)

  • Autonomous (fully robotic) mining

  • Geophysical techniques that can “see” through solid rock

  • Total resource recovery and/or waste utilization

  • Wasteless mining technologies

  • Minimal adverse environmental impacts

  • Rapid development of soils on mine wastes

Finding. The market will not support an optimal amount of research and development, possibly by a wide margin, without government support. The private sector tends to underfund research and development, particularly high-risk projects and projects with long-term benefits.

Finding. Although research in a broad range of fields may eventually have beneficial effects for the mining industry, the committee identified a number of areas in which new basic scientific data or technology would be particularly beneficial (Table 8-1).

Recommendation. The federal government has an appropriate, clear, and necessary role to play in funding research and development on mining technologies. The government should have a particularly strong interest in what is sometimes referred to as high-risk, “far-out,” “off-the-path,” or “blue-sky” research. A portion of the federal funding for basic research and long-term development should be devoted to achieving revolutionary advances with potential to provide substantial benefits to both the mining industry and the public.

Federal funding may be directed to agencies responsible for basic research, including the DOE, DOD, NSF, and the National Institutes of Health. In addition, the Mining Industries of the Future Program should allow for support of long-range, “frontier,” or “blue sky” projects. A side benefit of funding for basic research and long-term technology development, particularly in cooperation with universities, is the training of scientists and engineers in the mining sector and in other technology-intensive sectors of the economy.


For more than a century the federal government has been involved in research and development for our basic industries. In addition, a number of federal agencies are involved in science, engineering, and technology development that could be useful to the mining industry.

Finding. The committee recognizes that federal agencies undertake worthwhile research and development for their own purposes. Research and development that could benefit the mining sector of the U.S. economy is being pursued by many federal agencies. The problem is not the lack of skilled

SIDEBAR 8-2 Basic and Applied Research and Development

The Committee on Criteria for Federal Support of Research and Development (NRC, 1995c) developed the following characteristics for federally funded research:

  • Basic Research – creates new knowledge; is generic, nonappropriable, and openly available; is often done with no specific application in mind; requires a long-term commitment.

  • Applied Research – uses research methods to address questions with a specific purpose; pays explicit attention to producing knowledge relevant to producing a technology or service; overlaps extensively with basic research; can be short-term or long-term.

  • Fundamental Technology Development – develops prototypes; uses research findings to develop practical applications; is of general interest to a sector or sectors, but full returns cannot be captured by any one company; is usually short-term, but can be long-term; is not developed for one identifiable commercial or military product; often makes use of new knowledge from basic or applied research.

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