Friday, 12 October 2018

The Environmental Applications of Biotechnology in Mining

Biotechnology is set to have an increasingly important role,  not only in the treatment of primary ores and concentrates, but in the quest for the circular economy, and is likely to have a major role in remediation, treatment of tailings, electronic and other wastes, and as a potential aid to processes such as flotation. In this respect MEI's Biomining conferences are now intimately linked to the Sustainable Minerals series, which was very evident in June in Namibia, where over 60% of the Biohydromet '18 delegates also attended Sustainable Minerals '18.
Biomining '20 and Sustainable Minerals '20 will run back to back in June 2020 in the beautiful Cornish town of Falmouth (more info on the posting of 2nd August). Dr. David Dew will present a keynote at Biomining '20 on the limitations to the commercial application of biohydrometallurgy for the treatment of base metal sulfide ores (posting of 20 August), and we are pleased to announce that Dr. Anna Kaksonen, of Australia's CSIRO, will present a keynote on the environmental applications of biotechnology in mining. This will complement the keynote lecture on the following day at Sustainable Minerals '20, when Dr. Anita Parbhakar-Fox, of the University of Tasmania, will discuss how the mining industry might respond to the 'war on waste' (posting of 25th September).

Anna and her co-workers have recently published a comprehensive review article on recent progress in biohydrometallurgy and microbial characterisation (Hydrometallurgy Volume 180, September 2018). Bioprocessing of low-grade ores and concentrates is well-established as a commercial-scale technology for extracting value from various base and precious metal minerals. Microorganisms are also increasingly being used for recovering value from mine wastes, such as tailings, slags and ashes, as well as urban mining of end-of-life consumer products such as batteries and electronic wastes. The capability of microbes to catalyse oxidative and reductive bioprocesses as well as degrade organic compounds has been utilised for the removal of various contaminants from hydrometallurgical process waters and the treatment of effluents prior to release into the environment. Biological iron oxidation, bioreduction of nitrate, selenate and sulfate, neutralisation of acidity with biogenic alkalinity and bioprecipitation of metals offer alternatives for chemical water treatment. Emerging technologies, such as bioelectrochemical systems and synthetic biology are also opening new avenues to mining companies for monitoring and mitigating environmental impacts. Dr. Kaksonen will review examples of recent developments in the environmental applications of biotechnology in mining.
Anna Kaksonen has about 20 years’ experience in various aspects of biomining, from bio-oxidising and bioleaching low-grade ores to treating waste streams and recovering resources. During her Doctor of Technology degree, she developed fluidized bed reactor processes for biotechnical mine water treatment at Tampere University of Technology (TUT) in Finland. As a Senior Researcher at TUT, she also contributed to the development of heap bioleaching for complex low-grade black schist ores, bioprocesses for excess iron and sulfate removal from barren leach liquors and metal recovery from various metallurgical wastes. In 2009 Anna joined Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia as a Team Leader of Environmental and Industrial Biotechnology (EIB). In 2017 she was appointed as a leader of CSIRO’s Biotechnology and Synthetic Biology Group which has three teams (EIB; Biocatalysis and Synthetic Biology; and Metabolomics and Proteomics) located in Perth, Canberra and Brisbane. She has delivered projects to many companies on base metal, precious metal and uranium bioleaching, as well as biotechnical removal of organic and inorganic impurities from hydrometallurgical process waters. She has also been active in urban mining, developing bioprocesses for the extraction of metals from electronic wastes.
The latest updates on Biomining '20 and Sustainable Minerals '20 can be found at #Biomining20 and #SustainableMinerals20 respectively.

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