Sustainability and biomining in focus

The increasing focus on sustainability and environmental impact of mining activity is the basis for two Mineral Engineering conferences to be held in Falmouth, Cornwall in June 2020. These conferences, on biomining and sustainable minerals, have relevance to activities within the SEESIMA project, such as within WP4 and WP5.

Biomining ’20

The first is the Biomining ’20 conference, to be held 8-9 June 2020 in Falmouth. This is the 10th time that this conference has been arranged (after a name change from the earlier title of ‘Biohydrometallurgy’). The conference focuses on the development, optimisation and implementation of integrated biomining processing of mineral ores. This is an alternative processing route whereby the microbes are used to cause or catalyse the release of metals from the ore. This includes the microbiology of heap or tank leaching, bioflotation. This approach can be used on low grade or complex ores, or on novel resources such as mine and electronic waste, or the rehabilitation of environments damaged by mining. As such, biomining is a contributor to the sustainability of mining activity.

Biomining has achieved increased attention in recent years, and a flagship implementation is represented by the Terrafame mine in Finland. The following cartoon, taken from here) illustrates one of the main bacteria (Thiobacillus ferroxidans) used in releasing copper metal from copper ore.

biomining - a sustainable mining activity.
one view of the new workforce in biomining, (by downtoearth.org.in)

Sustainable Minerals ’20

The second conference is the Sustainable Minerals ’20 conference, to be held from 10-11 June 2020, also in Falmouth, Cornwall. This is being held for the 6th time, and focuses on sustainability aspects of mining. Modern society’s extensive use of metals and mineral-based materials creates a strain on sustainable use of natural resources. Hence, mining needs a focus on sustainability.

The topics of Sustainability ’20 include:

  • Acid Mine drainage
  • Wastewater treatment
  • Energy recovery and reduction
  • Industrial applications
  • Processing of Industrial Wastes
  • Recycling of post-consumer materials
  • Development of geopolymers as cement alternatives.

The Eden Project – nearby in Cornwall

A further attraction in the Cornwall area is the possibility to visit the Eden Project, nearby. This was formerly an open pit mine, extracting china clay. After the mine was closed it was transformed into one of the largest tourist attractions in the United Kingdom. The two pictures below show the ‘before’ and ‘after’ views of the site. This is a great answer as to what to do with the hole in the ground after mining has finished. A different approach to sustainability and biomining!.

Transformation of a china clay pit mine into the Eden Project tourist attraction - a good example of sustainable mining activity.
‘Before’ and ‘After’ views of the transformation of the china clay pit mine into the Eden Project.

Kirovsk Mining Museum educational resources

At the conclusion of the SEESIMA meetings in Apatity a visit was made to the JSC Apatit Museum in Kirovsk. This has impressively modern and comprehensive displays and education resources relating to the history of the region and the technologies for extraction of minerals from the local resources, in particular the operations of the JSC PhosAgro Apatit.

educational resources in Kirovsk Museum of JSC Apatit
The “Enrichment Hall” with displays of beneficiation processes (crushing, flotation and dewatering) of the PhosAgro process.

The Museum has a webpage which shows some of the content of the museum. The website also provides the possibility for taking a virtual tour of the museum.

  • Hall 1: History of the PhosAgro group
  • Hall 2: History of the JSC “Apatit” mine and processing
  • Hall 3: Display of gifts received by the enterprise
  • Hall 4: Details of the Khibiny Massif mineralogy
  • Hall 5: Mineral resources of the Kola Peninsula
  • Hall 6: Underground Mining
  • Hall 7: Open-pit Mining
  • Hall 8: Enrichment Department
  • Exhibition hall: “Everyday life and customs of the Russian Empire”
  • Clock tower: Display representing the different features of layers between the earth’s core and atmosphere.

At the time of our visit there were groups of school children and university students using the museum. It is a very useful resource for dissemination of information about the mining industry, and for highlighting for young persons the opportunities represented by the industry.

Metal leaching workshop

A seminar/workshop is to be held at Kjeøy Research and Education Centre in Vestbygd in Northern Norway. This will involve introductory presentations by specialists in the field of metal leaching from minerals, as well as time for discussion of both microbial and chemical leaching processes. Environmental aspects of natural leaching in cold climates will also be covered. Further details about the seminar, and registration information is available here.