Microbes could extract minerals – by Carol Mulligan (Sudbury Star – March 28, 2013)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

A Laurentian University scientist is conducting independent research into “mining” decades-old tailing ponds in Copper Cliff that contain nickel and copper that, if reclaimed, would be worth billions of dollars.

Nadia Mykytczuk, an environmental microbiologist at Laurentian’s Vale Living with Lakes Centre, says Sudbury has tremendous potential to be leaders in bioleaching — a process using microbes to extract valuable minerals from ores in waste water.

In many parts of the world, bioleaching is the only source of mineral extraction from low-grade ore and waste, said Mykytczuk during a break at a forum Wednesday at the centre. Bioleaching would remove or extract from ores minerals that weren’t removed by the smelting process.

The microscopic organisms — bacteria, viruses and parasites — eat into waste water, feeding on chemical energy and breaking the water into its chemical components. Microbes don’t destroy those elements, but rather separate them from their mineral form, making them soluble.

Left alone, that water and the metals in it leach out as acid mine draining, entering waterways.

“So, if we leave it to its own devices, it’s a problem, like we see in Copper Cliff,” said Mykytczuk, who was one of several speakers at a forum Wednesday called Completing the Mining Cycle: Bioremediation and Reclamation of Mine Waste Areas.

“But if we harness that microbial ability to remove those minerals and capture the metals that are sitting right there in those ponds, and take that out, then we remove those toxic metals and we can reprocess them and sell them on the market.”

The Copper Cliff tailings area is the largest in Canada and it’s estimated to contain billions of dollars worth of metals.

Efforts haven’t been made to reclaim those metals because smelting has been an effective way of removing metals from ores.

“We have a lot of money designated to smelting. We have so much more ore, that we have higher-grade ores still present in the ground. Why do we need to go after our waste?” asked the scientist.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Sudbury Star website: http://www.thesudburystar.com/2013/03/27/tiny-bugs-could-unlock-billions-in-nickel-copper

 

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