RENO, Nev. (AP) — A research center at the University of Nevada, Reno is helping turn theory into practice when it comes to finding gold in the state with more of it than any in the nation.
China and Australia are the only places in the world that produced more gold than Nevada last year. And with prices soaring past $1,600 an ounce, demand for new supplies is greater than ever.
Finding it is one of the chief missions of the Ralph Roberts Center for Research in Economic Geology at UNR's Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering.
Tim Crowley, president of the Nevada Mining Association, said it's difficult for the public to understand how difficult it is to find rare minerals that are in demand.
"We know we have a lot of variety and that we are a highly mineralized state, but finding precisely where there are concentrations of those materials and minerals is difficult," Crowley told the Reno Gazette-Journal ((http://on.rgj.com/Z0RsY0 ). "It takes tens and hundreds of millions of dollars a year to do that, so there's always an effort to get better at it."
About $6.5 million was spent on exploration in Nevada in 2011, about 90 percent of it in search of gold. China produced 355 metric tons of gold last year, Australia 270, United States 237, Russia 200, South Africa 190 and Nevada alone 172. Peru was next with 150 metric tons.
John Muntean who was named director of the Center for Research in Economic Geology in January, said the school is trying more and more to emphasize applications of its studies in the real world.
"So when I write a journal paper, instead of bragging about how many scientists have cited my paper, it's more of a rush to know that companies are using my research to look for gold," Muntean said. "There's a lot of science that goes into it, but in the end it is an applied field that has an application for industry."
Muntean said the center receives financial support from the mining industry, and companies pay the center's graduate students to conduct research for them.
"The common model in the United States in ore deposit research has been for one company to go to a professor and say, 'We'd like a thesis done on our property,'" Muntean said. "The challenge is to get away from that model and have companies donate money for a thesis that addresses bigger issues facing the entire industry."
Muntean said mining companies need to look at the bigger picture because Nevada's gold production has declined in 10 of the last 13 years.
"Production peaked in 1998 at 8.8 million ounces of gold," he said. "In 2011, it had dipped to about 5.5 million ounces. So we need to find more gold deposits.
"If we don't, then it's all over. It may take 20, 30 or 40 years, but we will be just like an old mining camp. It will die off if we don't find new resources."
Alan Coyner, administrator of the Nevada Division of Minerals, said gold, silver, molybdenum and copper are the four primary metals in Nevada that fuel the economy, but gold is still king.
"We need to find more of it if we are going to sustain mining for the foreseeable future, and the key to doing that is having a strong (Center for Research in Economic Geology) at the university," Coyner told the Gazette-Journal.
"We need trained economic geologists who know where to search for deposits," he said. "They are the next generation of gold bloodhounds who will keep us going so that, 20 or 100 years from now, we'll still be mining in Nevada."
Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com