Arizona public university researchers are partnering with the State Mine Inspector and mining community to find new ways to reuse copper tailings, the waste rock left behind after mining the ore. It’s estimated that the past century of mining has led to 17.5 billion tons of copper tailings, which is usually pulverized to the size of fine sand.
With support from a $3.6 million Regents’ Research Grant approved by the Arizona Board of Regents Thursday, university researchers plan to assess the metal content from this waste rock in search of critical elements such as lithium, which are used in everything from cell phones to electric vehicles and pacemakers. This interdisciplinary project will draw on the expertise of a total of 13 faculty and staff in nine departments across all three Arizona public universities.
MGE assistant professor Isabel Barton is principal investigator for the Regents’ Research Grant.
“The extraordinary volumes of leftover rock from copper mining make reprocessing copper tailings a world-class challenge and opportunity for Arizona,” said Barton. “This large-scale interdisciplinary project represents a substantial first step toward making use of a massive, but undeveloped, potential resource.”
Regents’ Research Grants pair Arizona’s public university researchers with government agencies and community organizations to address longstanding challenges in Arizona. Barton will draw on the expertise of 13 researchers in nine departments across all three Arizona public universities to complete the three-year project.