The earth's crust is full of small mineral deposits but their recovery may not be economic under the current system. Small-scale or "micro" mining ("artisanal mining") can extract wealth from small mineral deposits that might not be worthwhile to exploit by traditional large-scale mining processes. Despite smaller size, these deposits may still allow for high-margin operations. Small communities may profitably mine these reserves, although this requires a different mind-set. Communities can use low-tech excavation techniques, down to pick and shovel. Even if the infrastructure is more advanced, it does not have to be purchased and can possibly be built by the community itself, drastically cutting up-front investment requirements. Some recent advances in mining technology, such as biomining and cheap sensors can easily be scaled down.
- Economic models for mining have been based on corporate objectives rather than community needs
- Systems used in resource exploitation are geared toward the highly specialized; a network of specialists is used to keep the systems running
- These systems can sometimes exclude communities from participation. They can be marginalized due to lack of access to education.
Some principles for community based micro-mining
- use machines that can be built from simple parts, are easy to use and repair
- minimize amount of material that is moved to the surface, try to process in situ and only transport the finished product
- minimize energy requirements per cubic meter, use free energy that may be available (solar, hydro, biomass; other "stranded" energy)
- slow but steady mining processes
- multiple products; use tailings pile for something ! (... construction, build dam, make terraces for farming, pile them onto existing domes to create underground caves, etc.)
Open Source Micromining vs. traditional artisanal mining
- open source equipment reduces start-up cost
- creative use of stranded energy
- mining not for the general market but for own use of the mineral (= very different economics)
- deep scientific understanding is required: metallurgy, chemistry, materials science, biotechnology; open source online education makes this accessible now
- availability of inexpensive sensors, cameras and computing power
- multiple products (e.g. extract multiple minerals, plan mining with an eye for subsequent use such as aquaculture, construction or underground infrastructure).
- for metallurgy, use of induction furnace and digital fabrication are major improvements
- advanced techniques for underground mine ventilation (e.g. using solar thermal or non-electric wind energy)
- use of open source aerial ropeways to transport large amounts of earth/rock
- low-level geothermal heat is major problem in traditional underground mining. Could be used for space heating in the future (greenhouses).
- use of versatile agricultural equipment such as LifeTrac and well drilling rig
- mining of aluminum from clay using using hydrofluoric acid solution
- mining of copper with sulfuric acid (see: biomining)
- use of biogas and syngas for carbothermal reduction of iron (see metal refining)
- novel biotechnology methods (see biomining)
- for underground mining: use of thermal ventilation or compressed air