Environmental Forensics and Restoration

The US is on the verge of a massive electrification project, driven by a transition to renewable energy to offset carbon emissions. This project will be mineral and materials intensive.  The lithium, copper, aluminum, nickel and other critical elements required to meet projected demands will require an ore volume equivalent to digging a hole the size of the state of Delaware with a depth of 9.5 feet.1  At the turn of the 20th Century, the city of Butte, Montana (home of Montana Tech) supplied the copper needs to electrify the East Coast, creating thousands of miles of abandoned underground hardrock mines. Today, metal-laded acidic waters from these abandoned mines drain into the Berkeley Pit Superfund Site. Beyond Butte, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality estimates there are more than 3,000 abandoned coal mines and more than 3,700 abandoned hard rock mines in the State.  The Western states (including Alaska) have an estimated 150,000 abandoned hardrock mines, and nation-wide there are up to 500,000 abandoned mines in the country.  These abandoned mines create both a potential opportunity as well as environmental contamination, and in the case of Butte, Montana, provide an inter-generational remediation and into in perpetuity management problem.

As the supply of critical and rare earth minerals once again enter national conversation to support electrification, it is important to not only learn from historic lessons of past extraction practices, but use modern technologies and remote sensing to move forward.  There are currently no mechanism for determining the efficacy of aerial environmental monitoring and remediation and there exists a need for an innovative, science- and data-focused research entity. 

Researchers at Montana Technological University are working to create and validate a toolbox of environmental aerial technologies to drive technological advancements to improve monitoring and remediation practices and influence innovation.

For more information, contact:  Xiaobing  Zhou, Jeremy Crowley, Robin Bullock, Alysia Cox, Mary MacLaughlin.