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What is the meaning of the term 'recoverable ore' when used in contexts relating to mining and the extraction of resources/minerals?

For example, several academic papers use the term 'recoverable ore' but it is typically not defined.

Example paper 1. Example paper 2. Example paper 3.

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    $\begingroup$ Synonym for "technologically and economically viable" $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Dec 19, 2023 at 23:56
  • $\begingroup$ More a question for an English stack. $\endgroup$
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Dec 20, 2023 at 5:12

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To begin with, the titles and abstracts of the papers you refer to do not mention recoverable ore. They mention recoverable reserves or recoverable resources.

Resources, reserves and ore are not the same thing.

Generally, geologists discovery a mineral deposit and they will do an assessment that will determine the amount of mineralization or metal in the deposit. They do not apply mining and economic parameters to their analysis, they just determine a total mass of material according to three categories: measured, indicated and inferred. The result of their assessment is called a resource.

An inferred resource has the least degree of confidence. It's usually based on wide spaced drilling were the drill holes are least 50 meters apart.

An indicated resource has a good degree of confidence that it is as interpreted by geologists. It's based on closer spaced drilling, usually 20 or 25 meters. The complexity of the deposit also plays a factor and a more complex deposit may require closer spaced drilling.

A measured resource has the highest degree of confidence. It is based on drilling that is spaced at most 20 to 25 meters apart, the same as for an indicated, but the geologists have additional information that gives them greater confidence regarding the deposit. Such a classification usually applies to resources for a deposit that is being mined. For an underground mine, not only does the minerlization need to have closer spaced drilling, it also needs to be exposed on at least threes side by underground development, such as drives (drifts or tunnels) and raises. Closely drilled mineralization in the walls of a pit can also be classified as being measured. However, even with such exposure, pit or underground, if the deposit is complex of the geologists have doubts, such as resource can be downgraded to indicated status.

The conversion of resources to reserves and hence ore status, is done by mining engineers. Note, only measured and indicated resources can be converted to reserve status. Indicated resources have insufficient confidence to considered.

Mining engineers analyze the resource and geological models given to them by geologists. For open pit mines they use an open pit optimizer to obtain an initial pit shell to which they will design a pit that is practical to mine. Economic parameters which include mining costs, the value of the commodities being mined, processing costs and recoveries and marketing costs are applied to the material within the pit design to determine what is ore and can be categorized as part of the reserve. Material that is on no value will be classified as waste and mineralization that is marginal may be classified as low grade and stockpiled separately. If commodity prices improve later, such material may be recovered from the stockpile and processed. If this happens, such material is then reclassified as ore, and part of the reserve. For underground mines the mining engineers will complete a design for both development and stopes and then apply economic parameters to the stopes and development to determine which stopes, and hence, which parts of the mineral deposit are economic to mine. They are then classified as being part of the reserve and hence ore.

In short: geologists defined resources (size, shape, orientation and distribution of mineral deposit with no economics applied), mining engineers define reserves (economics applied: mine design, mineral processing and commodity value).

To your question, recoverable resources are parts of the resource that have the potential to be mined for a profit. Recoverable reserves, or ore, are parts of the reserve that can be mine profitably.

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