Mining microbes could unlock wealth, clean tailings – by Mary Katherine Keown (Sudbury Star – August 3, 2017)

With luck, ingenuity and some scientific know-how, Sudbury’s tailings ponds could become a new source nickel, copper and zinc.¬†Researchers from Laurentian University, the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia met at the Vale Living with Lakes Centre on Wednesday at a symposium to discuss biomining research.

“The topic of discussion is developing technologies that aim to remediate waste and effluent waters from mining operations in Sudbury and British Columbia,” Vlad Papangelakis, a professor at the University of Toronto and the project lead of the biomining research, said Wednesday. “We hope to recover some value from locked metals in these residues that will offset the processing costs.”

The value of residual nickel in Sudbury tailings amounts to $7 billion, according to recent world nickel prices. “There is significant economic interest, therefore, to use the eco-friendly processes being developed by (biomining) for remediation and base metal extraction,” symposium organizers said in a release.

But as Papangelakis points out, researchers are less motivated by potential profit than they are by the prospect of cleaning up the tailings in environmentally-friendly ways.

“The goal is to mitigate environmental damage and in doing so, try to recover as much locked metal as possible to make a profit and offset the processing cost,” he explained.

Researchers have secured funding for five years, including $4 million from the Ontario Ministry of Research, but could expand their work to 10 years.

“So we cannot see things from a snapshot of today’s economy and metal prices,” Papangelakis said. “We have to look in the future … There are too many unknowns here. We are generating new knowledge.”

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