Critical Mineral Recovery Potential from Tailings and Other Mine Waste Streams

Science Center Objects

The primary objectives of this one-year scoping project are to determine the feasibility of extracting byproduct mineral commodities, such as critical minerals, from mine tailings. We plan to analyze the existing data and reports from an active mine site on the composition of their mill tailings pile, and collect preliminary reconnaissance samples to identify appropriate analytical techniques that will be most useful to this study. The array of techniques considered will span standard and advanced mineralogical characterization techniques. 

Science Issue and Relevance

Preliminary reconnaissance investigations have identified anomalous concentrations of a variety of byproduct critical minerals in mill tailings from a variety of mineral deposit types (Seal and Piatak, 2017). The viability of recovering byproduct commodities from legacy tailings will require not only knowledge of the bulk concentrations of these elements in the tailings, but also detailed understanding of their mineralogical hosts. The ability to separate minerals using techniques such as froth flotation or dissolution is mineral-specific. Although anomalous concentrations of many byproduct critical minerals have been found in a variety of mill tailings, it is unclear if recovery of these elements is economically feasible on their own merits, or if recovery can offset environmental management costs, including mine closure.

Methodology to Address Issue

It is anticipated that a wide array of advanced mineralogical characterization tools will be needed to ultimately achieve our scientific goals. This project plans to study existing data from an active mine containing porphyry copper tailings, collect preliminary samples, and identify prospective laboratory techniques to evaluate factors in determining feasibility of extracting byproduct commodities.


Seal, R.R., II, and Piatak, N.M., 2017, Environmental attributes and resource potential of mill tailings from diverse mineral deposit types: Wolkersdorfer, Christian; Sartz, Lotta; Sillanpää, Mikka & Häkkinen, Antti (eds), Proceedings - International Mine Water Association Meeting, Lappenranta, Finland, June 2017, 6 p.


Return to Mineral Resources Program