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‘Unlocking the door’ to sustainable mineral and energy recovery

‘Unlocking the door’ to sustainable mineral and energy recovery

Professor Ranjith Pathegama Gamage

Along with his research team at Monash University, former ARC Future Fellow Professor Ranjith Pathegama Gamage has invented a whole new way to break rocks. The research breakthrough promises to greatly reduce energy consumption in one of the biggest greenhouse-emitting sectors, underground mineral and energy recovery.

Professor Ranjith says that minerals, geothermal heat, gas, and many other crucial resources are trapped deep underground in solid rock, so we need new ways to fracture that rock to get at what is inside.

"Existing methods such as hydro-fracking are a bit like using a sledgehammer to open a locked door: it takes a great deal of time and energy compared to using the key, and it may do irreparable damage in the process. Hydro-fracking consumes lots of energy and water, and its explosive, uncontrolled fracturing risks various other environmental harms, such as contaminating groundwater."

The new rock-fracturing method is unique because it is non-explosive, allowing greater control.

"It is much more like using the key to open the door," says Professor Ranjith. "Using the right tool for the job is far more energy efficient, and it is much easier to come in and out if the door has not been smashed into jagged pieces."

The “slow-releasing energy” technology uses minimal energy to carefully break the rock into neater, more controlled fragments, enabling much more efficient access to the resources trapped inside. It also uses 95% less water than hydro-fracking and removes the risks of environmental damage.

Professor Ranjith says that we must ‘open the door’ more carefully, if we are to harness the resources essential to modern life in a sustainable manner.

"Minerals are not simply luxuries we could do without. They produce medical prostheses, cell phones, fibre-optic cables, batteries, solar panels, and thousands more examples: essential to modern living standards and to renewable energy."

Professor Ranjith is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, and was recently honoured as the 2020 Global Field Leader in Mining and Mineral Resources for his contribution to sustainable mineral recoveries, by The Australian.


Professor Ranjith Pathegama Gamage. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

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