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Mineral Supply
  • Nutrition

  • Technology

  • Construction

  • Manufacturing

  • Agriculture

  • Jewellery

  • Medicine and dentistry

The Steps of the Mineral Supply Chain

What are the main steps of the mineral supply chain?

Bioleaching is an alternative mining process that extracts valuable metals from low-grade deposits using acidophilic bacteria.

Acidophilic organisms thrive under highly acidic conditions.

Evaluating Bioleaching

Bioleaching is a cheap and highly efficient mining technique, obtaining extraction yields of over 90%. It doesn't require high temperatures or destructive mining practices. However, it does produce toxic leachate that damages the environment.

Bioleaching is most suitable for low-grade mineral deposits. For higher-grade deposits, it's more feasible to use traditional smelting methods.

Phytomining

Plants absorb mineral ions from the soil through their roots.

Phytomining is a process where metals are extracted from plants instead of the ground.

How does it work?

  • Plants grow in soil that contains low-grade mineral deposits

  • As they grow, the plants absorb metal ions through their roots and concentrate them in their cell

  • The plants are harvested and burned

  • Metal compounds are left behind in the ash

Phytomining techniques are expected to be suitable for nickel, cobalt, thallium, and selenium.

Evaluating Phytomining

Phytomining can obtain metals from very low-grade deposits, reduces the need for destructive mining methods, and reduces the amount of waste rock. However, it's a slow process.

Current research is focusing on developing a carbon-negative method of phytomining. Hydrometallurgical plants, which can separate the target metal from its ore via a water-based medium, wouldn't need to be burned.

Other Exploratory Techniques

  • Gravimetry: measuring variations in Earth's gravitational field indicates different rock types in sediment or near the surface.

  • Magnetometry: measuring variations in Earth's magnetic field indicates magnetic materials, or those contrasting to their environment.
  • Seismic Surveys: using reflected sound waves to indicate subterranean mineral resources.

  • Resistivity Modelling: driving electrodes into the ground and generating a direct current between them can indicate mineralised areas. The further apart the electrodes, the deeper resistivity measurements can be taken.
  • Trial Drilling: taking vertical soil samples for direct chemical analysis.

Cradle-to-Cradle Design

Rather than a new mining method, cradle-to-cradle is a variation of the circular economy concept.

Cradle-to-cradle is the design and production of products so that they can be upcycled.

Cradle-to-cradle design focuses on imitating the cycle of nature – with no waste.

Technical materials stay in closed-loop cycles, circulating as nutrients for industry.

Biodegradable materials decompose into safe, non-toxic nutrients, and become food for biological cycles.

Cradle-to-cradle is considered to be equivalent to true sustainability. Reusing all products alleviates pressure on resources and reduces the need for further mining and extraction.

The UK Minerals Strategy

Mineral demand is increasing as the world is shifting towards a carbon-free future. By 2040, global demand for electric vehicle batteries is projected to increase by up to 13 times.

To cope with the surge in demand, the UK laid out its first Critical Minerals Strategy in 2022. It follows the ACE Method: acceleration, collaboration, and enhancement.

Accelerating the UK's domestic capacities:

  • Maximise domestic mining (where viable for communities and the natural environment)

  • Teach skills in mining and minerals

  • Use cutting-edge research and technology

  • Accelerate the circular economy to alleviate pressure on primary supplies – see cradle-to-cradle above!

Collaborating with international partners:

  • Source minerals from around the world

  • Encourage worldwide trading and diplomatic relationships

Enhancing international markets:

  • Reduce vulnerability to disruption

  • Create a level playing field

  • Develop functioning, transparent markets

  • Make London the global capital of responsible mineral finance

Critical Minerals

The term “critical minerals” was mentioned in the UK's Minerals Strategy. What is it?

Critical minerals are minerals that are essential to the economy, and cannot be substituted.

Many critical minerals are experiencing supply issues, or are produced in comparatively small volumes.

Uses for four critical minerals are summarised in this table.

Frequently Asked Questions about Mineral Supply

Minerals are used in a variety of industries, from technology to agriculture.

High-grade mineral deposits are being exhausted. Unless we find other ways of extracting minerals, we will run out.

“Critical minerals” are minerals that are in high demand, are essential to the economy, and cannot be substituted.

Minerals are inorganic solid compounds formed by geological processes.

Minerals provide health benefits for plants and animals. For example, calcium supports health bones and teeth.

Final Mineral Supply Quiz

Question

Define minerals.

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Answer

Minerals are inorganic solid compounds formed by geological processes.

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Question

What are the three types of minerals?

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Answer

Fuel minerals

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Question

Define the mineral supply chain.

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Answer

The mineral supply chain refers to the process through which minerals are extracted, traded, processed, and exported.

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Question

What are high-grade mineral deposits?

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Answer

High-grade mineral deposits are aggregates of minerals in an unusually high concentration.

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Question

How do satellites use spectral imaging?

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Answer

Satellites beam electromagnetic radiation down to Earth, then analyse how much radiation is reflected using spectral fingerprints.

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Question

What are the advantages of remote sensing?

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Answer

Remote sensing saves time and money. It can help prioritise sites to explore first, reducing risk in new projects.

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Question

Define bioleaching.

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Answer

Bioleaching is an alternative mining process that extracts valuable metals from low-grade deposits using acidophilic bacteria.

Show question

Question

What are the advantages of bioleaching?

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Answer

Bioleaching is cheap, efficient, and doesn't require high temperatures or destructive mining practices.

Show question

Question

Define phytomining.

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Answer

Phytomining is a process where metals are extracted from plants instead of the ground.

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Question

What is a disadvantage of phytomining?

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Answer

Phytomining is a very slow process.

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Question

Define cradle-to-cradle.

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Answer

Cradle-to-cradle is the design and production of products so that they can be upcycled.

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Question

There is no waste in the cradle-to-cradle design.

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Answer

True

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Question

What is the ACE method of the UK's Critical Minerals Strategy? 

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Answer

The ACE method focuses on acceleration, collaboration, and enhancement.

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Question

Define critical minerals.

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Answer

Critical minerals are minerals that are essential to the economy, and cannot be substituted.

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Question

What are the problems facing critical minerals?

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Answer

Many critical minerals are experiencing supply issues, or are produced in comparatively small volumes.

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