The Grand Challengers Podcast Episode #17

What to do with a hole in the ground – re-mining for critical minerals, rehabilitation and repurposing

Guest: Mohan Yellishetty

August 29th, 2023

Episode Teaser


“…I consider myself as a ‘dangerous optimist’, that means, something that many people think cannot be done, I think should be done and must be done…”

Mining is widespread across the globe , covering thousands of square kilometers of holes in the ground. But can we leverage these golden opportunities for sustainability once resource extraction activities are done and dusted?

My guest today is Mohan Yellishetty, an associate professor in resources engineering at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. From an upbringing in the Indian countryside, Mohan embarked on a journey to creating a better image of minerals extraction through diverse and high-impact research that is steadily changing policies and regulations, even beyond the mining sector.

In today’s episode, we discuss the life cycle of mines and minerals from cradle to cradle and uncover the so-called resources trinity around remining, rehabilitating and repurposing thousands of holes in the ground.


Mohan Yellishetty is an Associate Professor at Monash University, Australian Endeavour Fellow and Chartered Mining Engineer with an established teaching and research profile in the field of mining and environmental engineering. He has undertaken more than two decades of promising research and an altruistic academic career in Australia, USA and India, which enabled him to develop a portfolio of skills and impact in all aspects of the mining cycle.

After a Bachelor of Engineering in Mining from Osmania University, India and a Masters in environmental engineering at IIT Bombay, Mohan obtained his PhD in environmental engineering at Monash University in 2010. He spent two years as a Research Associate at Yale University, USA before returning to Monash. Mohan’s research and academic work experience across these three countries have provided him the opportunity to undertake high impact research and to contribute significantly to the mining engineering discipline.

Mohan has been recognised as one of the leading experts in the area of ‘Sustainable Mineral Resources’ and ‘Life Cycle assessment’. His key research and teaching strengths are in the areas of what is known as the ‘Resource Trinity’ (mine rehabilitation and closure, mine tailings and waste as well as critical minerals), Industrial ecology which includes life cycle thinking, substance flow and material flow analysis and critical and strategic mineral supply chains and assessment. Mohan works widely with several international mining companies, universities and research organisations, having positively influenced both public policy and industrial practice in his work. He co-founded the Critical Minerals Consortium at Monash University in 2020 and now strives to create impact and awareness worldwide on the lingering issue of what to do with thousands of ‘holes in the ground’ after mine closure. You may see him frequently on the media including recent interviews by Al Jazeera, a feature in Australian Geographic and many more.

Resources Related to the Episode

(Disclosure: Links on this page to “View on Amazon” are Affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.)

  • Different ages in human civilization known after the metals: Bronze, Copper, Iron
  • Cricket 101:
  • The town of Manthani, India
  • A list of Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) and IIT Bombay’s Website
  • Life Cycle Assessment:
    • Some background on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
    • Mohan’s Critical Review: Yellishetty, M., Ranjith, P.G., Tharumarajah, A. and Bhosale, S., 2009. Life cycle assessment in the minerals and metals sector: a critical review of selected issues and challenges. The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment14, pp.257-267. [Link]
  • How many different kinds of minerals are required to make the following electronics?
    • Smartphones [Link]
    • Microprocessors [Link]
    • Solar panels [Link]
  • Electrical vs. Internal Combustion Engines, here’s a comparison [Transport & Environment] [NY Times]
  • Clarifying and defining two terms used by Mohan: the Anthroposphere and the Lithosphere
  • “Garbage in, garbage out” comes from computer science, its first known use was in the 1950s [Wikipedia]
  • Life Cycle Assessment Softwares mentioned by Mohan:
  • Identifying the economic feasibility of a mining operation – The Bluecap model: Walsh, S.D., Northey, S.A., Huston, D., Yellishetty, M. and Czarnota, K., 2020. Bluecap: A geospatial model to assess regional economic-viability for mineral resource development. Resources Policy66, p.101598. [Open Access Link]
  • The global footprint of mining:
    • Here’s the recent paper that identified around 66,000 km2 of mining footprint globally: Tang, L. and Werner, T.T., 2023. Global mining footprint mapped from high-resolution satellite imagery. Communications Earth & Environment4(1), p.134. [Link]
    • Our collaborative piece on the 80,000 abandoned mines across Australia: Werner, T.T., Bach, P.M., Yellishetty, M., Amirpoorsaeed, F., Walsh, S., Miller, A., Roach, M., Schnapp, A., Solly, P., Tan, Y. and Lewis, C., 2020. A geospatial database for effective mine rehabilitation in Australia. Minerals10(9), p.745. [Open Access Link]
  • Mohan’s work on topsoil: Birjak, A., Walmsley, A., Anderson, N., Missen, J. and Yellishetty, M., 2020. Field scale assessment of artificial topsoil: A Victorian coal mine experience. In Proceedings of the 28th International Symposium on Mine Planning and Equipment Selection-MPES 2019 28 (pp. 376-389). Springer International Publishing. [Link]
  • Critical Minerals:
    • Mohan’s recent seminar at Melbourne University New energy Commodities and Critical Minerals – MEInetworks23 [YouTube]
    • Mohan’s feature on Al Jazeera: China bans export of chip-making metals amid tech-war with US [YouTube]
    • Some work Mohan undertook in understanding mineral criticality: Yuan, Y., Yellishetty, M., Muñoz, M.A. and Northey, S.A., 2019. Toward a dynamic evaluation of mineral criticality: Introducing the framework of criticality systems. Journal of Industrial Ecology23(5), pp.1264-1277. [Link]
  • “101 things to do with a hole in the ground” by Georgina Pearman [View on Amazon]
  • The Mining Incidence Documentation and Assessment Scheme (MIDAS) – named after the “Midas Touch” – see our paper on the 80,000 abandoned mines in Australia above
  • Repurposing abandoned mines:
  • “The cities of today are the mines of tomorrow” (from “The Economy of Cities” by Jane Jacobs, 1969) – [View on Amazon] – an interesting article on this quote and the prospects of urban mining
    • Century Zinc Mine in Queensland (4th largest Zinc deposit in the world)
    • Olympic Dam in South Australia (one of the largest mines in South Australia)
  • The White paper Mohan wrote with his colleagues for the senate inquiry: Whittle, D., Yellishetty, M., Walsh, S., Mudd, D. and Weng, Z., 2020. Critical Minerals Assessment. Critical Minerals Consortium, Monash University: Melbourne, Australia. [Link]
  • If you’re interested in visiting Coober Peedy, here’s their official site

Connect with Mohan Yellishetty