MS-EAEE, Sustainable Mining and Materials Concentration

Columbia University is the place to prepare you for a career in which you can make advances in the Sustainable Mining and Materials industries, anywhere in the world. Students gain a better understanding and working knowledge of present-day infrastructures and processing methods for minerals, metals, and materials – their strengths and weaknesses. Formal training is structured to empower you to develop and manage future technologies for a world that requires the use and transformation of earth resources to support our industrialized society in a sustainable manner.

Guidelines for MS-EAEE Thesis

View the guidelines for writing a Master of Science Thesis in Earth and Environmental Engineering.


Earth mineral and metal resources are the backbone of civilization and are critical to economic development and meeting the demands of a growing population. Resource development today faces several big challenges: (i) declining value content in the available ore bodies and poor quality of the resources; (ii) increasing focus on safety and health risks, and environmental impacts; (iii) inefficient and high energy and water consumption rates; (iv) huge risks associated with waste generation and management; (v) large secondary resources found in tailings and urban waste that can be made useful as part of the Circular Economy. Exemplary of the overarching global challenges related to natural resource development, the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2018 identified 35 Critical Minerals and a strategy to ensure secure and reliable supplies necessary to sustain current and future needs, demands, and economic growth in the U.S. It is well recognized worldwide in the resource development industries that traditional processing paradigms are no longer sustainable and cannot adequately address these serious challenges. There is now a major push by commercial, governmental, and financial institutions to develop and implement technologies for the sensible and sustainable use of earth resources. That overall goal is the basis for pursuing a modern “mines of the future” paradigm, which encompasses topics such as mine-to-metal integration, modular processing, digital optimization, machine learning and artificial intelligence, sensors and chemometrics, benign process chemicals, and a host of other forward-looking concepts.

In addition to primary earth reserves there are other potential sources of minerals, metals, and materials. These are the waste and recycle streams generated in traditional mineral processing and from discarded manufactured products. Greater use of these secondary sources is a significant component in having a functional Circular Economy. Thus, educating students who will develop the technologies and infrastructure to valorize waste streams, minimize water and energy usage, and minimize risks related to health, safety and the environment is a strong focus in the MS-ERE concentration in Sustainable Mining and Materials.

The processing of earth resources is intimately linked with water and energy usage. The earth resources industry operates on a phenomenally large scale – worldwide in 2017 about 50 billion tonnes of earth were moved and 18 billion tonnes of ore were processed to produce crude minerals valued at $4 trillion. Recent estimates show that in the U.S. mining industry alone, about 1 trillion kWh of energy and 6 billon m3 of water are used annually. Because of the huge magnitudes involved, even small improvements in earth resource processing efficiencies can have an enormous impact on energy and water conservation.

Education in the EEE M.S. degree program in Sustainable Mining and Materials integrates foundational engineering principles and processes with the transformational innovations under development in earth resources management industries. Benefits at the societal scale require engineering implementation of new technologies at the industrial scale. This program gives you the tools to accomplish that.


The M.S. concentration in Sustainable Mining and Materials is aimed at professionals whose background includes at least a B.S. degree in an engineering or equivalent science discipline, and who are interested in industry, government or education careers in what is the second largest industrial sector in the world. The MS-ERE degree aims at preparing a new generation of engineering professionals who will be involved with rebuilding the world’s minerals, metals, and materials infrastructure, which today is stretched nearly beyond the limits of its sustainability.


A total of 30 points (credits), optionally including a 3-point research course or a 6-point thesis, are required. For students with a non-engineering B.S. or a B.A. degree, up to 48 points may be required to allow for make-up undergraduate courses. In most cases, non-engineering student applicants should preferably have a science major in their undergraduate studies. Any discussion of requirements or selection of courses should be done in consultation with the student’s advisor. For a list of classes please visit the webpages for Student Orientation and the EEE department Bulletin.