Saturday, 12 June 2021

A unique Saturday in Falmouth

There can be few people around the world unaware that the G7 Summit meeting is being held in Cornwall this weekend.

The venue, Carbis Bay, is 24 miles from Falmouth, but even here there is a massive police presence, as the international media representatives are hosted at Falmouth's National Maritime Museum, and today saw a number of peaceful protests in the town.

I have spent the day wandering around on foot and by bike, and captured a few photos of the atmosphere on this glorious summer day.  There will be much more on the G7 in Cornwall in the monthly update on July 1st.

G7 leaders take a stroll into Falmouth

Extinction Rebellion in Kimberley Park

Ethiopians from Tigray province march to highlight the genocide taking place

Away from town, the peace and beauty of the Fal estuary at Pendennis Point

Life goes on at Swanpool Beach

and new life at Swanpool Lake

Thursday, 10 June 2021

Biomining '21 Day 4

Environmental applications of biotechnology in mining was the theme of today’s single session, commencing with a keynote lecture from Dr. Anna Kaksonen of CSIRO, Australia.  A former senior researcher at Tampere University of Technology, Finland, Anna joined CSIRO in 2009 as a team leader of Environmental and Industrial Biotechnology, and now leads CSIRO’s Industrial Biotechnology Group. Earlier this year she was appointed as an editor of Minerals Engineering.

Anna showed how 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.  She reviewed recent developments in the environmental applications of biotechnology in mining, which was followed by examples from eight presentations from Chile, Germany, Poland, Spain and South Africa describing the bioremediation and metal recovery from acid mine waters.

It is evident that biotechnology will be an important weapon in such areas, but overall what will be the future of biomining?  This was the subject of a mid-day panel discussion, chaired by Prof Sue Harrison, one of MEI’s consultants to the conference, and Professor of Bioprocess Engineering at the University of Cape Town. Sue was a co-chairperson of the last panel discussion in the series, at Biomining ’14.

Sue started by summarising the conference and then introduced the panel members,  Prof. Sabrina Hedrich, of TU Bergakademie Freiberg, Germany, and the three keynote lecturers, Chris Bryan, Barrie Johnson and Anna Kaksonen.

This was an excellent, wide ranging 2-hour discussion of many topics, which I will not attempt to summarise, suffice it to say that the recording is available on demand for another 6 months.  What was very encouraging was the interaction with the conference delegates who submitted very pertinent questions via the discussion forum.

After another very productive day, Jon closed the conference, thanking our sponsors once more, the presenters, the exhibitors and all delegates for taking part in the active online discussions. The presenters were invited to submit papers to Minerals Engineering for peer-review, with the aim of publication in a virtual special issue of the conference.

These discussions can continue for a further 6 months, as the conference presentations and panel discussion will remain online, and we invite further registrations at any time. 

We would greatly appreciate your feedback on the conference, and invite you to submit your comments and criticisms to this blog post, as your opinions will be of great value to us as we progress to future events. Let us know what you thought about the networking sessions, and how you found browsing the virtual exhibit booths. If you were an exhibitor did you find the virtual experience a worthwhile substitute to a physical presence?

Thank you all of you for your support. It will be interesting to see how biomining will develop over the next few years, and what will transpire at the next event in the series, details of which will be announced shortly.


Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Biomining '21 Day 3

Biohydrometallurgy is most often used to deal with recalcitrant minerals, where other techniques fail. These minerals often end up in plant tailings, and in the quest for a circular economy, which will be one of the main themes of Sustainable Minerals ’21 in a couple of weeks’ time, the treatment of secondary deposits, such as old tailings dams, and current plant tailings, increases in importance.

The day began with eight presentations, from Austria, France, Germany, Portugal and Spain on bioleaching to extract valuable and hazardous metals and base metals from waste streams, and from steel production by-products.

Recycling of metals is probably the greatest challenge for the circular economy, particularly the small amounts present in waste electrical and electronic equipment, such as mobile phones and printed circuit boards. 

There are intensive research efforts around the globe and in the second session of the day, on Recycling, seven presentations from France, Germany, Spain, South Africa, Republic of Korea and UK showed how biotechnology might play an important role in this area. 

Daniel Ray, of Coventry University, UK, highlighted that mobile phones have become an integral part of modern society. An average mobile phone is estimated to be in use for less than two years with an estimated 18 million handsets replaced every year in the UK alone. Waste mobile phones contain a variety of valuable metals including copper, nickel and gold, and tiny amounts of critical metals such as rare earths and indium. 

There is no doubt that biohydrometallurgy will play a crucial role in the circular economy, and we will hear more of secondary processing and recycling at Sustainable Minerals ’21.

The circular economy will also be the subject of debate at the G7 summit, which begins on Friday in Cornwall, and as a prelude to this a huge sculpture made of electronic waste is being built on the Hayle Towans dunes facing Carbis Bay where the G7 leaders will be meeting.  It has been named "Mount Recyclemore" and bids to highlight the damage caused by the disposal of electronic devices.

Photo: Greg Martin @photogregmartin

The huge faces depict UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, France's President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Joe Biden.

The project aims to highlight the growing threat of e-waste on the planet as the G7 leaders prepare to discuss how to tackle climate change and build a greener future.


Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Biomining '21 Day 2

Dr. Chris Bryan has been a consultant to MEI’s biomining conferences for several years. Formerly a senior lecturer at Camborne School of Mines, he is now head of the Geomicrobiology and Environmental Monitoring Unit at BRGM in France.

Chris got the day off to a fine start with a keynote lecture “Bridging the gaps in biomining research and application”.  He highlighted that, despite the excitement of 40 years ago, biohydrometallurgy remains a niche technology, applied where it offers unique advantages or no alternative exists. Advances in competing hydrometallurgical processes, such as chloride leaching and HPAL, mean bioleaching is at risk of losing ground. To halt this potential decline, and to make biomining more competitive in an increasingly busy space, serious scientific and technological advances are required. 

Chris feels that biohydrometallurgy is incredibly exciting. Few other technologies combine so many different disciplines. However, research is rather disparate, with relatively few resources. More than ever, as a community we need to consider how best to advance the state of the art: how to avoid the no-man’s land between academic knowledge and industrial needs and what are the key research questions.

Chris’s provocative keynote was followed by three presentations  from South Africa on biooxidation.

Metso Outotec's BIOX® process was developed for the pre-treatment of refractory concentrates ahead of conventional cyanide leaching for gold recovery. As the gold is encapsulated in sulfide minerals such as pyrite and arsenopyrite, the gold is prevented from being leached by cyanide. The BIOX® process destroys sulfide minerals and exposes the gold for subsequent cyanidation, thereby increasing the achievable gold recovery.

BIOX® has gained wide range acceptance due to its relatively lower operating cost and environmental friendliness. However, with uncertainties in gold prices, depletion of near-surface ores and dwindling gold grades coupled with high reagent cost, some BIOX® processes are becoming uneconomically viable, and Jakolien Strauss, of Metso Outotec, South Africa, described how the BIOX® technology solution offerings have been expanded in recent years to cater for the treatment of complex base metal sulphides. 

The search for more useful microorganisms continues, as there are areas in which those currently available are inadequate for industrial use, solids tolerance in stirred tanks being a notable area, particularly at high temperature, and microorganisms was the subject of 11 diverse presentations in the 2nd session of the day, showing the diversity and capabilities of microbes from a broad range of environments from the Northern Hemisphere to the Antarctic.

Back in 2014 (posting of 28 July 2014) Dr. Paul Norris said that academics should look at relevant natural and mining sites in their countries. He said that it is not difficult to find new microorganisms and then to screen them to assess their effectiveness. Academics at the TU Bergakademie Freiberg, Germany have done just that, and Dr. Götz Haferburg showed how the Reiche Zeche mine, one of the most famous historic polymetallic mines in the Freiberg area, proved to be a treasure trove of acidophilic microorganisms.

All presentations and discussions are available on demand to registered delegates until December 31st, but abstracts are freely available on the conference website


Monday, 7 June 2021

Biomining ’21 Day 1

Monday June 7th

It is now three years since MEI’s last biomining conference, Biohydromet ’18, in Namibia. Biomining ’20 was originally scheduled to be held in Falmouth last year, but was postponed for a year, and due to the ongoing pandemic became an online event.

Biomining ’21, the 10th in the series, is sponsored by AFX Mixing & Pumping Technologies & Newmont. Media sponsor is International Mining and Industry Associates are the Cornwall Mining Alliance, Ocean Mining Intel and the Critical Minerals Association.

Although there is evidence that bioleaching was used in the Rio Tinto area in Spain prior to Roman occupation, for the recovery of copper, as well as in China some 2000 years ago, it is only over the past 40 years that biohydrometallurgy has been increasingly recognised as a niche technology for extraction of metal values from refractory and low grade ores, often used as an avenue of last resort on ores that are untreatable with other methods. 

It is a complex technology, needing fundamental understanding of microbiology, engineering, mineralogy, hydrometallurgy etc. and it has a relatively low number of global researchers compared with flotation for instance. The Namibia conference was attended by around 50 delegates, and this year we have over 70 delegates from 20 countries attending from the comfort of their own home or office, and it is the 2nd highest attendance in the series.

Processes based on biohydrometallurgy have the potential to enhance the degree of extraction from the overall resource and this has led to the development of commercial tank and heap bioleaching processes to recover base metals, particularly copper, and biooxidation to enable subsequent recovery of gold and PGMs.  Some say that biotechnology can deliver environmental benefits over competing extraction approaches, but Prof Barrie Johnson questioned in his keynote lecture this morning whether such 'green' claims stand up to close scrutiny.

Currently, the recognition of the relevance of biohydrometallurgy in a broader context is growing. With the increasing emphasis on the need to develop a circular economy, biotechnology has the potential to expand the range of technologies needed to process secondary resources, such as old tailings deposits and municipal waste, and to help in the recycling of metals from waste electrical and electronic equipment,

New challenges for biohydrometallurgists include accounting for unintentional bioleaching reactions on the disposal of waste rock and tailings and the need for the long term prevention of such reactions to enable appropriate handling of waste rock and restoration and rehabilitation of prior mine sites with associated protection of water resources.  

All these aspects of biomining will be discussed over the next few days, culminating in a final day panel discussion asking what is the future of biomining.

Jon Wills opens the conference from Falmouth

MEI’s Jon Wills opened the conference this morning, welcoming all our delegates, after which Prof Barrie Johnson delivered his keynote “How green was my biomining?”; a personal critique of the limitations and untapped potential of applying bioprocessing techniques for metal extraction and recovery”.

Barrie, a Professor at Bangor and Coventry Universities, UK, also has honorary chairs at the University of Exeter and Central South University, China, and has vast experience in biohydrometallurgy. His presentation gave a critical overview of the environmental impact of biotechnologies in mineral processing and metal recovery, identifying areas where existing approaches have (and do not have) significant green credentials, and also highlighted where new developments, currently at the laboratory or pilot-scale stage of development, could have major environmental impact in future years.

Cambridge 2015: Barrie Johnson with Anita Parbhakar-Fox,
a keynote lecturer at Sustainable Minerals ’21 in two weeks time 

The keynote was followed by a very full day of 13 presentations on the bioleaching of ores and concentrates.  The abstracts are available on the conference website, and all the presentations, and associated discussions, are available on demand until the end of the year, so registration is still open.


Thursday, 3 June 2021

Biomining '21 is only 4 days away

A reminder to all of you who have an interest in the mining industry's use of biotechnology that Biomining '21, MEI's 10th International biomining conference, and the first to be completely online, begins on Monday.

Full details can be found on the posting of 3rd May, and registration details are on the conference website.

Sit back in the comfort of your own homes and offices next week, for 4 days of international presentations and a panel discussion on the future of biomining.