Mines students challenged with finding a use for Henderson Mine

Automated vehicles or anaerobic mushrooms among ideas

Posted 12/31/18

Twenty-one college students spent an entire semester pondering what should happen to the Henderson Mine when its mineral resources are depleted. But the students, most of whom attend the Colorado …

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Mines students challenged with finding a use for Henderson Mine

Automated vehicles or anaerobic mushrooms among ideas

Posted

Twenty-one college students spent an entire semester pondering what should happen to the Henderson Mine when its mineral resources are depleted.

But the students, most of whom attend the Colorado School of Mines, did more than just ponder their ideas. They put them to the test.

The Henderson Sustainable Development and Entrepreneurship Challenge “exercised their imaginations in a practical way,” said Priscilla Nelson, a professor and head of the Mining Engineering Department at Mines. “It’s an opportunity for them to see a project all the way through.”

The challenge was not a class — the students were competing to win up to $25,000.

This was the first year for the competition to be offered, but there are plans for it to be offered again next year.

“Our future leaders must understand the value of sustainable development practices throughout the life cycle of a mining operation, and be able to incorporate this practical knowledge into every aspect of mining,” said Mike Kendrick, the president of Climax Molybdenum, a Freeport-McMoRan company, which owns the Henderson Mine. “We hope the students have been challenged to think differently, more creatively and feel empowered to continuously bring fresh ideas and a range of solutions for industry and the community that might not otherwise be explored.”

The Henderson mine, which produces molybdenum, is located near Empire in Clear Creek County. It has been in operation since 1976.

Climax Molybdenum had planned on closing the mine in 2020. However last year mine officials announced it would stay open until 2026, thanks to the rising price of molybdenum.

Students were tasked with finding a solution for the mine’s future, following its eventual depletion of minerals, that would be useful for Clear Creek County, Nelson said.

Clear Creek County heavily relies on the revenue generated from the mine, and is interested in its future, said Keith Montag, Clear Creek County’s county manager.

The challenge began in the fall with 24 student teams. On Aug. 25, Climax Molybdenum employees, serving as judges, selected the top 11 student teams to continue on in the challenge. This is when Mines faculty and alumni were paired with the student teams to be mentors.

“This competition has allowed me to understand the mining industry more than I thought I would,” said Gage Coprivnicar, who is studying electrical engineering. “In addition, it helped connect my field of study to other disciplines.”

Two teams eventually dropped out, and on Oct. 20, the remaining nine traveled to Idaho Springs and presented their ideas to a panel of judges, which selected five finalists.

Traxion — a Golden-based startup business accelerator program that provides aspiring startup founders with a support resource through educational programs, introductions to advisers with industry experience and/or technical expertise — got involved with the five finalists to help them with the business plan on their proposals.

“It was important to both Freeport-McMoRan and Clear Creek County that the proposals offer viable business opportunities,” said Bud Rockhill, one of Traxion’s three founding partners.

“The teams did a great job of integrating their engineering and technology solutions with the business model. It’s so much fun to work with the Mines student teams because they’re very smart and very receptive to learning the basic business concepts - and then are able to apply them to their specific project immediately.”

The final round of judging took place on Dec. 7, when the five finalists presented their proposal and business plan to a panel of eight judges consisting of officials from Freeport McMoRan, Climax Molybdenum officials and Henderson Mine; and the Clear Creek County manager and CSU Extension director for Clear Creek County.

The teams were made up of four-or-five students each, and proposals ran the gamut from establishing a community college to a car testing facility. Coming in first place and winning $25,000 was Mo Data.

Henderson Engine & Automotive Testing (H.E.A.T.) placed second and won $15,000. Taking third place and a $10,000 prize was Henderson Composting and Mushroom Farm.

The students enjoyed getting creative with the project, the process and the “multiscale nature” of the project, said team Mo Data.

“We looked at the big picture, but also the intricacies,” said Caleb Stetson of team Mo Data, who is pursuing a PhD in materials science from Mines. His teammate Jessica Di Caprio, who is studying environmental engineering added that it was “neat to see the development of the concept as well as us as a team.”

Grace Anderson, a chemical engineering student who was one of five on team Henderson Composting and Mushroom Farm, agreed.

“We enjoyed working with all the different people,” she said. “This project really brought us all together, in order to contribute to the best sustainable idea.”

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