Saturday, 9 June 2012

Is biotechnology set to revolutionise the mining industry?

A collaborative paper from the University of Adelaide, CSIRO and the South Australian Museum suggests that advances in biotechnology will revolutionise the gold mining industry, leading to greener, more efficient extraction of gold.

Currently the role of biological agents in the mining industry is limited to the use of microorganisms in bioleaching and bioremediation. However, there are a number of ways in which biotechnology will be used in the near future to aid the mining industry, and some of these will be discussed at Biohydromet '12, which starts in 9 days time.

According to the paper, development of these innovative biotechnologies has been enabled by advances in the understanding of the role that microorganisms play in the solubilisation, dispersion and precipitation of gold, brought upon by the rapid development of molecular genetic techniques over the past decade.

An understanding of microbial species in soils overlying mineralisation can be utilised to develop bioindicator systems that assist with gold exploration. An in-depth knowledge of how microorganisms interact with gold complexes is being used to develop biosensors, further supporting exploration.

Processing technologies are being improved based upon advances in our understanding of the interactions between microorganisms, cyanide and gold. For instance, cyanide-producing microorganisms are being investigated for use in in situ leaching of gold. In turn, the use of cyanide-utilising microorganisms for the degradation of cyanide is being explored.

So is biotechnology really set now to come alive and revolutionise the processing of gold, and of other ores?

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