Green Tech Bugs to Process Mine Waste

Millions of tonnes of mining waste could be converted to usable minerals with a new bioleaching process at a plant expected to open this summer in Ontario.

A new bioleaching pilot plant using BacTech Environmental Corp.’s (BAC:CSE;BCCEF:OTC;OBT1:FRA) process for recovering nickel, cobalt, iron, and sulfur from millions of tonnes of Ontario mining waste is expected to start operating this summer, the company announced Wednesday.

One of four reactors has been 100% completed at the pilot plant in Sudbury and is being used to test concentrates from BacTech’s Tenguel project in Ecuador. The proposed plant could start up in July, BacTech said.

“You’ve taken a really nasty sulfide mineral that’s doing nobody any good, and it’s got water poured on top of it so that doesn’t oxidize and burst into flames,” said BacTech President and Chief Executive Officer Ross Orr. Now “you’ve turned that into four different profit centers.”

The green tech company is mainly focused on copper, silver, and gold projects containing arsenic in Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia. Its website tagline, “Our bugs eat rocks,” describes the bioleaching, which uses naturally occurring bacteria, harmless to humans and the environment, to extract precious and base metals from ores, concentrates, and tailings.

If the rocks are a brick wall, Orr said, the bugs eat the mortar — or the sulfur — holding everything together in the rocks by chewing and oxidizing the sulfides. Once the mortar is gone, the wall comes crashing down.

BacTech announced last month that it had filed a patent application for the process being used at the Sudbury plant. It applies to the bioleaching of pyrrhotite, an iron sulfide mineral containing low levels of nickel, cobalt, and copper that is usually discarded as waste by mining operations. The Sudbury basin has up to 100 million tonnes of pyrrhotite tailings from 90 years of mining, the company said, containing an average of 0.80% nickel and 0.03% cobalt.

Under current market price, that puts the value of the nickel at $22 billion alone, BacTech said. Nickel and cobalt are in demand for their use in electric vehicle batteries.

“At the end of the day, there’s a lot of nickel there that can be recovered … without having to rip a hole in the ground to do it,” Orr said. “And you solve environmental problems at the same time.”

Dr. Nadia Mykytczuk, member of BacTech’s advisory board and the interim president and chief executive officer of MIRARCO Mining Innovation, is leading development of the plant, the company said. The process will be tested with a “cascade of reactors operating on a continuous basis,” BacTech said.

The plant will also include equipment at the front and back ends to capture additional revenue from sulfur, iron as feed for making steel, and oxidized residue conversion for construction materials. BacTech said the pilot plant is part of Mykytczuk’s effort to establish a Centre for Mine Waste Biotechnology to focus on the commercialization of biotechnologies to “extract value and reduce impacts from mine wastes.”

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1) Steve Sobek compiled this article for Streetwise Reports LLC. He or members of his household own securities of the following companies mentioned in the article: None. He or members of his household are paid by the following companies mentioned in this article: None.
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