The race to mine mining waste – by John Lorinc (Corporate Knights – January 9, 2023)

Could metal-eating bacteria that break down mining waste be key to sustainable battery minerals?

For generations, the topography of Sudbury, Ontario, has been brutally defined by towering slag heaps and vast orange-hued tailings ponds – the physical legacy of almost 140 years of nickel mining and smelting by resource giants like Inco and Falconbridge.

By 1910, in fact, Sudbury’s mines were supplying 80% of the world’s nickel. But by the late 20th century, the industrial fallout – corrosive air pollution, acid rain and a legacy of seemingly intractable contamination – revealed the extraordinary environmental cost of those resource riches.

Fast forward to April 2022, when BacTech, a publicly traded Toronto remediation firm, launched plans to use naturally occurring bacteria and a “bioleaching” process to break down some of that mining waste and recover what it claims are billions of dollars in nickel, cobalt, green iron and sulphur that have long been buried in those tailings.

Nickel and cobalt are now highly sought-after minerals in the accelerating race to build electric vehicle batteries, and this venture seems to offer a double climate bonus: remediation of a highly degraded landscape, as well as raw materials for transportation technology that weans society of its addiction to fossil fuels.

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