Developing novel bioleaching process for Ni recovery from pyrrhotite streams
Current methods of mining and processing ores for metal recovery are energy intensive. They lead to significant waste streams, tailings and energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, exacerbating the climate crisis. However, (re)processing existing tailings containing metals value is not energy intensive as the energy to extract the minerals has already been spent. In addition, electrification of the transportation sector is a key part of Canada’s climate strategy. Bioprocessing offers energy-efficient and environmentally friendly methods for recovering critical minerals, such as nickel, that are key components in batteries and electric vehicles. The project will use genomics technologies to characterize and engineer microbial populations and test bioleaching process strategies to treat pyrrhotite tailings, waste streams of current mining practices, for nickel extraction. Bioleaching technologies are already commercially used for mining, mainly extracting gold, and copper from sulfidic ores. The team will use genomic solutions to enable the widespread application of bioleaching technology, aiming at achieving faster bioleaching kinetics, improved residue quality, selectivity for Ni extraction and developing process monitoring methods. Metso-Outotec and BacTech work with Glencore and Vale to implement the technology on pyrrhotite tailings from the Sudbury, ON, basin mines. The extraction of nickel from pyrrhotite tailings in Canada has a potential value of $26 billion, can provide a source of critical minerals for the production of electric vehicle batteries, and enable significant (>75%) reduction in waste generation from local mining activities.