The mining industry continues to be a hotbed of patent innovation. Activity in hydrometallurgical extraction is driven by the need for efficient ways to recover metal ions from mineral ores with lower energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Hydrometallurgy is a more appropriate recycling method that effectively reduces environmental impact. In the last three years alone, there have been over 62,000 patents filed and granted in the mining industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Innovation in mining: hydrometallurgical extraction. Buy the report here.
However, not all innovations are equal and nor do they follow a constant upward trend. Instead, their evolution takes the form of an S-shaped curve that reflects their typical lifecycle from early emergence to accelerating adoption, before finally stabilizing and reaching maturity.
Identifying where a particular innovation is on this journey, especially those that are in the emerging and accelerating stages, is essential for understanding their current level of adoption and the likely future trajectory and impact they will have.
40+ innovations will shape the mining industry
According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which plots the S-curve for the mining industry using innovation intensity models built on over 70,000 patents, there are 40+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.
Within the emerging innovation stage, tunnel ventilation systems, mine drainage systems, and tunnel lining construction are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Battery metal recycling, precision milling and virtual industrial monitoring are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas are high performance drill bits and hybrid industrial vehicles, which are now well established in the industry.
Innovation S-curve for the mining industry
Hydrometallurgical extraction is a key innovation area in mining
Hydrometallurgical processes refer to a set of techniques and methods used to extract metals from ore or concentrate by dissolving them in aqueous solutions. These processes are widely employed in the mining industry to recover metals such as copper, gold, silver and uranium, among others, and offer an alternative to traditional pyrometallurgical methods that involve smelting and melting at high temperatures.
GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 70+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established mining companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of hydrometallurgical extraction.
Key players in hydrometallurgical extraction – a disruptive innovation in the mining industry
‘Application diversity’ measures the number of applications identified for each patent. It broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.
‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of countries each patent is registered in. It reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’.
Patent volumes related to hydrometallurgical extraction
|Company||Total patents (2010 - 2022)||Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies|
|Metso Outotec||964||Unlock Company Profile|
|ENEOS||357||Unlock Company Profile|
|Barrick Gold||116||Unlock Company Profile|
|AEM Canada Group||99||Unlock Company Profile|
|BHP||82||Unlock Company Profile|
|Vale||69||Unlock Company Profile|
|Freeport-McMoRan||65||Unlock Company Profile|
|Nemaska Lithium||63||Unlock Company Profile|
|Jinchuan Group||63||Unlock Company Profile|
|Teck Resources||62||Unlock Company Profile|
|Korea Zinc||46||Unlock Company Profile|
|Newmont||45||Unlock Company Profile|
|POSCO||42||Unlock Company Profile|
|Dowa||39||Unlock Company Profile|
|Reed Industrial Minerals||39||Unlock Company Profile|
|Lithium Australia||38||Unlock Company Profile|
|Anglo Operations||33||Unlock Company Profile|
|Tivan||32||Unlock Company Profile|
|China Energy Investment||28||Unlock Company Profile|
|Aurubis||22||Unlock Company Profile|
|eEnergy Group||21||Unlock Company Profile|
|JFE||19||Unlock Company Profile|
|South32||19||Unlock Company Profile|
|Scandium International Mining||19||Unlock Company Profile|
|Arafura Rare Earths||17||Unlock Company Profile|
|Eldorado Gold||17||Unlock Company Profile|
|Glencore||17||Unlock Company Profile|
|Lixivia||17||Unlock Company Profile|
|Luksic Group||17||Unlock Company Profile|
|State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council||14||Unlock Company Profile|
|Zijin Mining Group||14||Unlock Company Profile|
|Neste||14||Unlock Company Profile|
|Proterial||13||Unlock Company Profile|
|Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation||12||Unlock Company Profile|
|Grinm Advanced Materials||12||Unlock Company Profile|
|Graymont||12||Unlock Company Profile|
|Heraeus||12||Unlock Company Profile|
|Xstrata Queensland||12||Unlock Company Profile|
|Sibanye Stillwater||12||Unlock Company Profile|
|Yara International||11||Unlock Company Profile|
|Tata Steel||11||Unlock Company Profile|
|Outokumpu||11||Unlock Company Profile|
|Nippon Mining||10||Unlock Company Profile|
|Dundee Resources||9||Unlock Company Profile|
|Exploration Orbite V.S.P.A.||9||Unlock Company Profile|
|Tanaka Precious Metals||8||Unlock Company Profile|
|EnviroLeach Technologies||8||Unlock Company Profile|
|Mintek||7||Unlock Company Profile|
|RecycLiCo Battery Materials||7||Unlock Company Profile|
|Alcan||6||Unlock Company Profile|
Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics
Metso Outotec and ENEOS are among the leading patent filers in hydrometallurgical extraction. Metso Outotec provides innovative hydrometallurgical technologies such as atmospheric and pressure leaching, solvent extraction, precipitation, electrowinning, and electrorefining for a wide range of metal products such as copper, zinc, nickel, precious and special metals. The company offers high direct recoveries with low inventories.
ENEOS produces refined copper from the Caserones copper deposit using the hydrometallurgical solvent extraction and electrowinning (SX-EW) method. Copper ion is recovered selectively from the leaching solution, and copper metal is produced through electrolysis from the copper sulfate solution.
In terms of application diversity, Tanaka Precious Metals leads the pack, followed by Alcan. By means of geographic reach, Nemaska Lithium held the top position, followed by Aurubis and Luksic Group.
To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the mining industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Mining.