Testing of an innovative ‘green’ mining technology to extract valuable metals out of mine waste will start in Sudbury in early 2024.
BacTech Environmental has a proprietary and environmentally friendly bioleaching process that it wants to test on mine tailings to extract small amounts of cobalt and nickel while it simultaneously cleans up the environment.
The bioleaching process involves using native and naturally occurring and harmless bacteria that can be trained in the lab to target certain ores and contain other substances that are harmful to humans.
The company delivered an update on its proposed Sudbury pyrrhotite bioleach R&D project in a recent newsletter.
If the testing proves commercially successful, it could lead to a new kind of eco-friendly mining industry in the city.
The Toronto company has been working in concert with a Sudbury research partner, MIRARCO Mining Innovation, to test BacTech’s technology on small laboratory-scale pilot plant stage. Beginning in January, a few kilograms a day of tailings will be tested. The program will run for six months.
Nadia Mykytczuk, president-CEO of MIRARCO, and an expert in this technology, is working with BacTech on the pilot plant.
MIRARCO received funding in August to help develop the pilot plant.
BacTech said last summer that the pyrrhotite tailings used in the testing will be provided by Sudbury nickel miner Vale.
The company estimates there’s between 80 million and 100 million tonnes of pyrrhotite tailings in the Sudbury basin, historically generated and managed by Vale (formerly INCO) and Glencore (formerly Falconbridge) in a special tailings area. The metals in the waste piles, such as nickel and cobalt, were not extracted during the conventional smelting and refining processes.
Pyrrohotite (pronounced pir-uh-tayht) is an iron sulphide material containing low levels of nickel, cobalt and copper. It’s also a highly reactive mineral that reacts strongly when exposed to oxygen, releasing soluble acidic iron harmful to the environment.
The objective of the test is to determine if BacTech’s bioleaching process can break down pyrrhotite to free up small amounts of cobalt and nickel. The company said the results are crucial to secure patent protection.
The results will be fed into the design of demonstration-scale plant using commercial-sized equipment that will show the economics and produce sizeable tonnages that would lead to a large prototype production facility, possibly in Sudbury.