Scientists at the University of Oxford are proposing the idea of sustainably extracting copper, gold, zinc, silver and lithium from brines trapped in porous rocks at depths of around 2 kilometres below dormant volcanoes.
In a paper published in the journal Open Science, the researchers explain that the gases released by magma beneath volcanoes are rich in metals. As the pressure drops, the gases separate into steam and brine.
Most metals dissolved in the original magmatic gas become concentrated in the dense brine, which in turn gets trapped in porous rock.
The less-dense and metal-depleted steam continues up to the surface, where it can form fumaroles, such as those seen at many active volcanoes.
According to the team led by petrologist Jon Blundy, this trapped subterranean brine is a potential ‘liquid ore’ containing a slew of valuable metals, including gold, lithium and several million tonnes of copper, all of which could be exploited by extracting the fluids to the surface via deep wells.
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