The demand for critical minerals has reached a crisis level in some regions, including the U.S., and researchers at the Missouri University of Science & Technology (S&T) are leading the charge to develop solutions. Dr. Lana Alagha, an associate professor of mining engineering at S&T, recently received a $375,000 grant from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to develop and enhance methods for recovering critical minerals that are often lost when processing copper.

“It is true that we are in the midst of a critical minerals crisis, but we actually have large amounts of many of these minerals available,” she said. “The key is finding cost-effective methods to extract the minerals from tailings and other sources that may be considered unconventional.”

That is why the focus of Alagha’s current grant project includes not only tellurium, which is a critical mineral, but also gold and silver, which could offset the costs associated with recovering tellurium.

For this project, Alagha will closely examine every step of copper processing with some of the nation’s top suppliers and develop a flowsheet noting how the separation of these other minerals could be enhanced. She is also involved with several other critical mineral initiatives at S&T. Her passion for this work comes from its impact on national security, economic development, sustainable resources management, and the national and international collaboration involved with these efforts.

“There is not one perfect solution to the critical minerals crisis that will be discovered by one research team,” she said. “This is an issue that will require a variety of initiatives and is not something that will be solved overnight. It will take multiple projects, and they will all add up and ultimately make a significant difference.”

Some of Alagha’s other projects include potentially recovering critical minerals from smelter dusts, hydrometallurgical approaches to recovering nickel and cobalt from mine tailings, and methods to establish a cradle-to-grave ecosystem for several critical minerals used in the manufacture of microelectronics, magnets, and batteries.

Alagha is also a member of the organizing committee for S&T’s third annual Resilient Supply of Critical Minerals
national workshop, which will be held August 9-10, 2023.