TABLE 1-1 Research Agenda for the Mining Industry


• improved spatial and spectral imaging to penetrate foliage and surface cover

• increased digital geophysical coverage of the United States magnetically, gravitationally, radiometrically, and spectrally to 0.5 mile

• improved drilling/sampling techniques and analytical methods to increase basic knowledge


• geosensing to predict variations in an ore body or coal seam, sense the closeness of geological disturbances, and obtain in-situ measurements of ore grade

• nonexplosive rock fragmentation

• intelligent, cognitive mining systems

• in-situ mining

Mineral Processing

• advances in modeling and automation for computer-controlled operations

• integration of blasting with crushing; use of energy other than electromechanical

• development of more efficient flotation systems

Metal Extraction

• advances in hydrometallurgical and biotechnological processes and reagents


• development of a systems approach for environmental issues and waste disposal


SOURCE: NRC, 1990.

The NRC established the Committee on Technologies for the Mining Industries to undertake the study. The committee members, 14 experts from academia, industry, state governments, and the national laboratories, have recognized expertise in exploration geology and geophysics; mining practices and processes for coal, minerals, and metals; process engineering; resource economics; the environmental impacts of mining; mineral and metal extraction and processing technologies; and health and safety. Brief biographies of the committee members are provided in Appendix A.

The overall objectives of this study are: (a) to review available information on the U.S. mining industry; (b) to identify critical needs in research and development related to the exploration, mining, and processing of coal, minerals, and metals; and (c) to examine the federal contribution to research and development in mining processes. The seven specific tasks in the Statement of Task are outlined below:

  • Review the importance to the U.S. economy (in terms of production and employment) of the mining industries, including the extraction and primary processing of coal, minerals, and metals.

  • Identify research opportunities and technology areas in which advances could improve the effectiveness and productivity of exploration.

  • Identify research opportunities and technology areas in which advances could improve energy efficiency and productivity and reduce wastes from mining and processing.

  • Review the federal research and technology resources currently available to the U.S. mining industry.

  • Identify potential safety and health risks and benefits of implementing identified new technologies in the mining industries.

  • Identify potential environmental risks and benefits of implementing identified new technologies in the mining industries.

  • Recommend objectives for research and development in mining and processing that are consistent with the goals of the mining industry of the future through its governmentindustry partnership.

In this report we do not include downstream processing, such as smelting of mineral concentrates or refining of metals. The discussion is limited to technologies that affect the steps leading to the sale of the first commercial product from extraction. The report does not address broader issues, such as transportation.

To address the charge the committee held six meetings between March and October 2000. The meetings included presentations by and discussions with the sponsors, personnel from other government programs, and representatives of industry and academia. Individuals who provided the committee with oral or written information are identified in Appendix B. As background material, the committee reviewed relevant government documents and materials, pertinent NRC reports, and other technical reports and literature published through October 2000.

Concurrent with the NRC study, NIOSH and OIT commissioned the RAND Science and Technology Policy Institute to conduct a study on critical technologies for mining. The approach adopted for that study involved eliciting a wide range of views through interviews with more than 90 senior personnel (managers and above) from 59 organizations (23 mining companies, 29 service providers, and 7 research/other organizations). Two briefings by representatives of RAND during the course of this study provided preliminary findings on industry trends, mining equipment and processes, and health and safety technologies. However, the RAND report was not available to the committee in time to be used for this study.

This report is intended for multiple audiences. It contains advice for OIT, NIOSH, policy makers, scientists, engineers, and industry associations. Chapter 2 provides an overview of the economic importance of mining and the current state of technology (Task 1). Chapter 3 identifies technologies that would benefit major components of the mining industry in the areas of exploration, mining, and processing (Tasks 2

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