South Dakota Mines Bound for Bright Future in the Mineral Industries Disciplines

March 30, 2021

South Dakota Mines is on the cusp of a new and bright future in the mineral industries core disciplines of geological, metallurgical and mining engineering. This is thanks to the state legislature and Gov. Kristi Noem, who approved $19 million in public funding for the construction of a new state-of-the-art Mineral Industries Building on the Mines campus. The new facility will advance the future of science, engineering and technology while increasing environmental stewardship and catalyzing economic development in the region.

The modern research spaces and classrooms will lead to new discoveries, spur creation of new high-tech companies, and help attract new employers to the area while educating the next generation of innovators.

Research currently under way in these disciplines includes:

• Public-private partnerships are being leveraged in a new multidisciplinary entity called the Mining Hub, which explores cutting-edge technology such as autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, robotic mining and a new era of environmentally sustainable mining practices.

• Mines faculty and students are undertaking research that could revolutionize the future of energy by tapping the massive well of geothermal heat deep inside the earth as part of a study at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in Lead, SD.

• New products and manufacturing methods are being created from mined and recycled minerals with innovative research funded by private industry, NASA, the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation.

“Thanks to state leaders, we have an exciting opportunity in this new facility to produce a large return on investment for both the public and private sector. This facility will yield new research and spin-off companies alongside a new crop of science and engineering innovators in multiple fields,” said Mines President Jim Rankin.

State Sen. David Johnson authored the bill and served as the prime sponsor. Sen. Johnson is also a Mines alumnus. “It was an honor to work on this legislation for my alma mater and for the state of South Dakota. Mines faculty and administrators were key on bringing me up to speed on the critical issues related to rare earth mining and its role in our own economic development and our nation’s defense,” Johnson said. “This building will also help us retain high quality scientists and engineers right here in South Dakota.”

Private industry is lining up to capitalize on the opportunity. Caterpillar is supporting the creation of a new laboratory at Mines to explore state-of-the-art mining technology; this will include collaboration with Western Dakota Tech and local industry. A new agreement with Caterpillar is also exploring transforming part of SURF into an underground robotic mining test facility. These developments have the potential to open frontiers in safe and environmentally-sound mining practices pioneered right here in the Black Hills.

Caterpillar is one supporter of many. Industry leaders from Nucor and a range of other companies are committing millions of dollars to this project because they recognize the fantastic opportunities that evolve from collaboration with Mines. A new Mineral Industries Building on campus not only provides these companies with a highly skilled workforce, it also gives them a lead on emerging technologies that will boost their bottom lines.

The project is moving forward quickly. The location is between the O’Harra Building and the James E. Martin Paleontological Research Laboratory; the new building is expected to open in late 2023 or early 2024.


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