The aim of the consortium is to develop new strategies to extract low grade primary geological resources, mine by-products, using Iberia as a case study, and to recycle technological waste for rare metal recovery. The core of the investigation is the development of innovative bio-mining and bio-mineralization techniques, based in the collection of microorganisms from hydrothermal vents. The results is expected to be in according with the strategic implementation plan on raw materials not just for Technology pillar 1B action area nº I.2 and I.3 but also 1A and 1C and as such provides fundamental knowledge for the entire technology pillar as a whole. It will enable and facilitate the development of global sustainable Innovative extraction of raw materials through the application of biotechnologies allowing the exploitation of presently uneconomically geological resources, in a more environmentally friendly way and substantially reducing mining wastes
Portugal and Spain (Iberia), traditional producers of raw materials, were affected by the crisis of the 80´s and 90´s, but retained a significant potential to reactive their mining industry, alleviating Europe resources deficits and driving the national economy. In the past the exploitation was focused in the economically high grade ore deposits, extracted and processed by conventional techniques. The metal recovery efficiency of these techniques was variable but not very high, and, as a consequence, it is expected that a significant amount was discarded to the tailings dams.
With the goal of developing new strategies based on emerging technologies to allow the economic exploitation of primary low grade ores as well as secondary sources from by-products of the mining activities, an interdisciplinary team was established joining geologists, geochemists, microbiologists, mining and material engineers from University of Coimbra (UC), University of Porto (UP), University of Aveiro (UA) in Portugal, University of Salamanca (USal) and Institute of Geology and Mining in Spain (IGME), and University of Copenhagen in Denmark (KU), and the Portuguese company EDM (Empresa de Desenvolvimento Mineiro). It is expected that the same technologies can also be applied to the recycling of technological man-made wastes, mainly with the purpose of recovering rare minerals.
These objectives are essential for the strategic implementation plan of the European innovation partnership on raw materials priority area I.B: Technologies for primary and secondary raw materials’ production with emphasis in the action areas nº I.3 - Innovative extraction of raw materials and alternative mining and nº I.5 - Recycling of raw materials from products, buildings and infrastructure
Geological, mineralogical and geochemical studies to be developed by members of the UC, USal and IGME will improve the knowledge in low grade ores deposits of central Iberia whose exploitation in the past by conventional means was not economically feasible, as the case of W and Sn
The metal resistant microorganisms from the culture collection of UC, part of it with origin in deep-see hydrothermal vents, will be characterized (biochemical and molecular), genetically engineered to obtain new biotechnological tools, to explore their use in improving mineral extraction. The UC and UP group will develop new processes for extracting small amounts of metal by using these microorganisms looking into hitherto neglected deposits.
UC and UA also intend to explore the microorganisms collection to perform bio-mineralization. Improving growing conditions and immobilization strategies for bio-mineralization will be developed in collaboration with material engineers from UC for strains already identified (uranium and arsenic biomineralization) and for the new bio-mineralizing strains that will be detected in the culture collection.
The section of Microbiology at KU is committed to investigation of microbial interactions and their relevance for providing novel technologies. Lead by Professor Søren Sørensen these technologies will utilize hitherto untapped or underutilized resources and the production of novel microbial derived products, for extraction of high value products or minerals bio-remediation and bio-mineralization. Techniques used are high throughput including access to the Copenhagen high through put Sequencing facility chaired by the Co-applicant for pyrosequencing and FACS, for genome, transcriptome, and sorting of engineered strains by flow cytometry.
The biotechnological techniques will also be tested in association with other innovative non-biological techniques to explore possible synergistic effects.
The “biominers” microorganisms will be tested also in "urban mining" environments, that is to evaluate its efficiency to perform bioleaching of technological man-made waste (electric and electronic and others) for recovery of the metals, namely the rare ones.
By the end it is expected to design and build a pilot biotechnological plant in a former mining mine for testing the laboratory results. EDM will make available mining areas for implementation of this plant.
The deliverables expected from the project are essential for the strategic implementation plan of the European innovation partnership on raw materials, not just for Technology pillar 1B action area nr I.2 and I.3 but also I.A and IC. These will also impact alternative mining through the application of biotechnologies substantially reducing generation of mining waste and as such provides fundamental knowledge for the entire technology pillar as a whole. We expected to:
Innovative extraction of raw materials
Improving the recovery efficiency of rare minerals from technological wastes
Reducing the amount of mine wastes
Reducing the amount of technological waste, namely electronic and electric equipment
Developing a more sustainable exploitation of raw materials (from economic, environment and social issues)
Identify new resources, discarded in the past due to the low content of the metals and high cost of exploitation
Discover new tools (modified microorganisms) for mining and recycling
Design and implement of biotechnological plants for low grade geological resources and mine by-products
Bringing together a team of experts from different fields (geology, mineralogy, geochemistry, microbiology, chemical, mechanical and mining engineers)
The University of Coimbra, through its Research Center of Materials, will carry on the field work for geological prospecting works and co-operate in the field of petrographic and mineralogical studies of the ore minerals. The core of the microbiological studies would be conducted in the same research center. The Coimbra group would be also involved in the design and monitoring on the pilot plant.