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Producing metals from common rocks: The case of gold

Palacios, Jose-Luis, Abadias, Alejandro, Valero, Alicia, Valero, Antonio, Reuter, Markus A.
Resources, conservation, and recycling 2019 v.148 pp. 23-35
chemistry, computer software, energy, energy costs, energy resources, entropy, gold, minerals, mining, models, rocks
The depletion of the mineral capital is a topic of concern because the worldwide demand for minerals is rapidly increasing. Moreover, since the energy consumption increases as ore grades decline, there is growing stress on energy resources and the environment associated with mining activities. The energy costs associated with the exhaustion of mineral deposits is ruled by the entropy law through a negative logarithmic pattern, in which as the ore grade tends to zero, the energy tends to infinity. This study analyzes through a model developed in HSC Chemistry software, the energy that would be required to produce gold from common bare rock. In this way, we evaluate the maximum energy consumption with current technologies, to obtain gold at the final ore grade, i.e., when all mineral deposits were completely exhausted until reaching crustal concentration. The final theoretical concentration of gold is assumed to be that of the model of Thanatia, which is a resource exhausted Earth with the most abundant minerals found at crustal concentrations. The results are then compared to theoretical values obtained in previous studies for gold and serve to update with a more accurate methodology, the so-called thermodynamic rarity of minerals, as a way to assess the avoided mining energy for having minerals concentrated in mines and not dispersed throughout the crust. This then serves to assess the mineral capital and its degradation velocity from a thermodynamic point of view.