It’s in the early stages at the Vale Living with Lakes Centre, but a made-in-the-North bacteria could one day replace smelters to remove valuable metals such as nickel and copper from ore and mine waste.
“It’s time to hand over the job to another generation of technology,” said the centre’s director John Gunn at a press conference Monday announcing $630,000 in Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation funding for a new five-year industrial research chair in bio-mining, bio-remediation and science communication at Laurentian University.
“This marks the start of a clean-tech industry for Sudbury that will initially create hundreds if not thousands of jobs,” he said.
According to Gunn, the centre is working on developing a cold-climate composite of bacteria that can help to pull metals out of mined ore and it is now in the testing stages. If successful, the bacteria could go to work to reclaim residual metals — worth an estimated $5 billion — that abound in the Greater Sudbury area, including the slag sites surrounding Vale’s Copper Cliff smelting complex.
“A lot of this is happening in South America,” he noted. “About 70 per cent of copper in copper mines is mined by bacteria, not by smelters. This research chair would learn how to do that in cold climates.”
The $650,000, which was announced by Sudbury Liberal MPP Glenn Thibeault on behalf of Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle, will soon be boosted by an anticipated $4.5 million from the Ontario Research Fund, reporters heard, as well as $700,000 that Environment Canada will be forwarding courtesy of a fine paid for a tailings spill in Labrador.
Gunn said people once thought neutrinos were pretty complicated, but talk about them today as if they were common. He said the same will soon be said of bio-mining and bio-remediation.
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