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Sudbury researchers land funding for green mining initiative

MIRARCO Mining Innovation receive $280,000 from industry innovation network
Vale tailings site
Google Earth image of Vale's Copper Cliff tailings site in Sudbury (Supplied)

Sudbury’s MIRARCO Mining Innovation has received $280,000 in grant money from the Mining Innovation Commercialization Accelerator (MICA) Network.

The funding is earmarked to help develop a pilot plant in Sudbury that uses a biotechnology process to extract valuable metals out of waste piles at mine sites while simultaneously cleaning up the environment.

MIRARCO’s industry partner, BacTech Environment Corp. announced the news on Aug. 14.

Using a proprietary bioleaching process, BacTech and MIRARCO want to test this technology in the Sudbury basin which hosts 100 million tonnes of pyrroholite concentrate. Most of it is held by the big mining companies Vale and Glencore in special tailings areas. The metals in the waste piles, like nickel and cobalt, were not able to be extracted during the conventional smelting and refining process.

A pilot plant using a bioleaching process using native bacteria is under development in Sudbury.

BacTech said last year that it estimates there’s US$22 billion worth of untapped nickel in the Sudbury basin, based on the market price for nickel a year ago which stood at US$27,000 per tonne. The tailings are estimated to contain 0.80 per nickel and 0.03 per cent cobalt.

The pyrrhotite tailings used in the testing will be provided to MIRARCO by Vale.

MIRARCO President-CEO Nadia Mykytczuk is working with BacTech’s scientific team on the pilot plant.

“Focusing on ‘Made in Canada’ scientific solutions for waste mine management makes sense, and bioleaching is well positioned to complement modern mining practices and help extract critical minerals from waste,” said Mykytczuk in a statement. 

MICA is a program focused on developing initiatives for the commercialization of mining technology to increase productivity and sustainability within the mining sector.