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.

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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.

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GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Patent Analytics tracks patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.