LLE: The Development and Future Impact of Biotechnologies for Mineral Processing and Metal Recovery
November 18 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Human society is seemingly at a crossroads in its use of metal resources. On the one hand, there are increasing demands not only for increased amounts of metals in general, but also for far more different metals (including rare earth elements) many of which were considered of little or no use or value in the past. This is set against global concerns about the degradation of the environment and the need to reduce carbon and energy footprints. The scale of demand for different metals is doubling every 10 – 20 years and only a small fraction of this can be met by recycling. Traditional metal mining is highly consumptive of energy, with about 5% of total global consumption estimated to be used to haul rocks to the land surface (~99% of which ends up in waste dumps) and to crush and grind them to fine powders (comminution).
Scientists working in the fields of geomicrobiology and biohydrometallurgy have long recognised that some microorganisms can be harnessed to extract metals from minerals at ambient temperatures and pressures, and also to recover metals from waste and process waters by targeted biomineralisation. The first trial for using microorganisms to process metal minerals was established over 50 years ago (to extract copper from run-of-mine waste rocks) and has grown in scale to account for ~15% of copper and 5% of gold production worldwide. This presentation will describe how “biomining” has evolved, but why it is still considered a niche technology by most in the mining sector. Recent innovations that offer opportunities to use biotechnologies to exploit metal ores traditionally considered non-economic, due to their locations or mineralogies, will be described, and the financial as well as environment benefits to be gained by more widespread use of “bio” processes for extracting and recovering metals will be highlighted.
Barrie Johnson is a research professor, based at Bangor and Coventry Universities (UK) with >30 years experience with using specialised microorganisms to extract and recover metals. He is an elected member of the Learned Society of Wales, an Industrial Research Fellow of the Royal Society, has held honorary professorships at Exeter University and Central South University (China) and research fellowships awarded by the US Department of Energy and Bureau of Mines. He has worked with many of the leading global mining companies (Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Newmont Mining, Vale etc.) and collaborates with many research groups throughout the world on fundamental and applied aspects of biohydrometallurgy. He has published over 370 articles in journals, books and conference proceedings, and has worked on over 70 funded (research council, EU and industry) research projects. His research was highlighted by Scientific American highlighted as one of “10 world changing ideas” in their December 2011 edition.
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