University of Queensland researchers have developed an innovative method to turn mine tailings into healthy soil. “We have basically taken engineering solutions into the context of natural soil formation from rocks because tailings have some useful minerals common to natural rocks,” Longbin Huang, co-author of the paper that presents the solution, said in a media statement.
In Huang’s view, his team’s proposal could save billions of dollars around the world by minimizing the costs and risks of tailings storage.
Using the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan to determine the underlying mechanisms of soil formation, the group found a way to accelerate natural soil processes to convert tailings into healthy soil.
“Tailings have no biologically friendly properties for growing plants. Roots and water cannot penetrate them, and soluble salts and metals in tailings can kill plants and soil microbes,” Huang said. “If you wait for nature to slowly weather the tailings and turn them into soil, it could take a couple thousand years.”
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