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Faculty and Staff

NC State’s Minerals Research Laboratory celebrates 75 years

MRL researcher in lab

For 75 years, the Minerals Research Laboratory (MRL) in Asheville has supported mining activities in North Carolina and throughout the U.S. 

The lab, which was established in 1946, became a part of NC State’s College of Engineering in 1954. The College’s extension arm, Industry Expansion Solutions (IES), has handled operation of the lab since 2004. Dean Louis Martin-Vega will make a virtual visit to the MRL on Friday, Oct. 22, as part of its 75th anniversary celebration.

The MRL reflects the long mining history in western North Carolina, which was the leading producer of gold prior to the California Gold Rush in 1849. Today, North Carolina is the only producer of andalusite and pyrophyllite in the U.S. The state is also a significant source of common clay, feldspar, mica, phosphate rock, construction and industrial sand/gravel and crushed stone, such as granite.

Engineers and geologists who work at the lab evaluate mineral samples for commercial potential, as well as research ways to reuse mining waste products to reduce environmental impacts. 

More ores are treated using flotation cells than by any other single machine or process. Non-metallics, as well as metallics now being commercially recovered, include gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, iron, manganese, nickel, cobalt, molybdenum, graphite, phosphate, fluorspar, barite, feldspar and coal.

The MRL is led by Robert Mensah-Biney, who has more than 30 years of experience in mineral and chemical industry research and development. He has helped expand the lab’s technologies and services. 

Minerals Research Lab staff standing in front of a table with cake and a balloon to celebrate the lab's 75th anniversary.

“We’re the only university facility that provides the mining industry with these kinds of applied research-based solutions,” Mensah-Biney said in a release. “We take pride in helping mining organizations improve their processes to extract minerals more economically and increase their yield.”

Minerals Research Lab staff sitting at a table enjoying a meal to celebrate the lab's 75th anniversary.

Among those services is a pilot plant, which helps determine the cost and specifications of assembling and running a full-scale plant to mine a particular resource. The MRL is the only lab in the U.S. with this type of plant. Other services include bench laboratory testing, conceptual plant design and preliminary feasibility, plant evaluation, technical assistance, process audits and assessments and industrial services.

Read more at the Minerals Research Laboratory website →