The mining industry will soon be undergoing major transformations in the methodology and retrieval technique department. Since the creation of the man-made practice, mining has taken over as the main way to obtain the various resources needed for the manufacturing, industrial, commercial, electrical, and consumer industries. The electricity that powers our homes, the fuel that goes in our airplanes, the jewelry we wear, and the metal pans we cook on all have components that were retrieved from a type of mining. But as society gets deeper into the fight for our planet’s preservation, we are starting to view mining as detrimental to its health. Whether from the land it occupies, the waste left behind, the contamination of the surrounding waters and earth, or the depletion of natural resources, mining has become a hazard for our environment.
Unfortunately, mining waste is one of the main problems we are seeing today. But! There may be a way to start counteracting the years of negligence. A team of researchers at the University of Waterloo, Ontario have developed a new technique that can retrieve and collect the metals left from mining waste. In the process of mining, after the extraction of the designated material, by-products or tailings are left behind. Tailings are the fine-grained waste materials that are left to be stacked and stored after project completion is done. The team has developed a new technique to collect these metals left over in the tailings to be reused in other practices.
"This technology is a potential game-changer in the fight against climate change, and the mining industry has a unique opportunity to play a significant role in the future of green energy," stated Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences Assistant Professor, Dr. Jenine McCutcheon.
By using microbes, higher amounts of these metals can be extracted from the tailings and ores, through a process called bioleaching. Ores are the rocks or sediments that contain the minable metals and materials. The technique of utilizing microbes not only develops a more circulatory cycle of mining and helps resource recovery, it also helps store carbon emissions. In fact, the microbes capture the released carbon dioxide from the air and reallocate it to become a mineral within the tailings. This process can help offset the emissions that were released during the active mining, and aid in stabilizing the tailings. If applied to an entire mining site, this process can offset about 30% of the annual GHG emissions released from the sites.
"This technique makes better use of current and past mine sites. Rethinking how future mine sites are designed in order to integrate this process could result in mines that are carbon neutral from the get-go rather than thinking about carbon storage as an add-on at the end,” stated McCutcheon.