CASERM is a collaborative venture between Colorado School of Mines and Virginia Tech. The Center’s mission is to transform the mineral resource industry through rigorous integration of diverse geoscience data to improve decision-making across the mining life cycle. CASERM also addresses the critical need for training and preparation of graduates and young professionals by educating the next generation of scientists and engineers working in the mining sector. The Center’s vision is to be a globally recognized center of excellence by the time of graduation from the IUCRC program, spearheading the future of mineral discovery, extraction, and reclamation.

The future of mining is shaped by advances in technology that rely on geoscience data as a fundamental link in the mining value chain. The first step in the mining life cycle is the exploration for a resource feasible for economic exploitation. During the exploration and discovery stage, economic geologists identify mineral resources through geological mapping as well as geochemical and geophysical surveys. Discovery fundamentally relies on understanding of mineral system models. Next, the technical feasibility and the economic viability of a project are assessed, through characterization, geological modeling, and geostatistical evaluation. The timeline for permitting and community approval varies, typically requiring between 10 to 20 years between discovery and mine construction. Resource extraction occurs by open pit or underground mining, or less commonly by solution mining. The mine design and all operational aspects of the mine are strongly governed by the geological, mineralogical, and geomechanical characteristics of the resource. The last step in mining operations is closure and reclamation. Rehabilitation of the mine site to a stable and self-rejuvenating state necessitates understanding of surface geological, geochemical, and hydrological processes. Each step in the mining life cycle requires science, engineering, technology, community involvement, and careful planning, and in the U.S. each step is governed by stringent state and federal environmental protection regulations, as well as financial assurance obligations.

CASERM is the only research center within NSF’s IUCRC program that focuses on the research and development needs of the mining industry, which provides the building blocks on which the U.S. economy depends. Precompetitive research within CASERM serves an industrial sector that currently produces minerals and materials valued at $90.4 billion per year (U.S. Geological Survey 2022) and provides direct employment for 181,000 miners, geologists, and mining engineers (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2022). With the value addition through processing of the raw materials, activities within CASERM impact an industry that accounts for ~15% of the nation’s gross domestic product (U.S. Geological Survey 2022).