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Bioleaching of valuable and hazardous metal(loid)s from sulfidic mine waste by halophilic sulfur-oxidizing bacteria: a novel bioleaching approach

Opara, C. B.; Kutschke, S.; Pollmann, K.


Mine waste is a large waste stream and typically contains significant amounts of metal(loid)s, which can pose environmental risks, especially when poorly managed. Reprocessing of mine waste can offer both economic and environmental benefits by contributing to the ever-growing global demands for valuable metals, as well as reducing the environmental risks associated with mine waste. Bioleaching is a global biotechnology that exploits the abilities of some microorganisms to catalyze the oxidative dissolution of sulfidic minerals, thereby expediting the extraction of metal(loid)s. Chemolithoautotrophic acidophilic microorganisms have been the focus of bioleaching studies for many decades and can effectively catalyze the solubilization of metals from ores or waste materials. However, bioleaching with acidophilic organisms is performed at low pH (pH ≤ 2), which could lead to the acidification of the environment. In addition, the tolerance of many acidophilic microorganisms to high chloride concentrations is limited, therefore freshwater is mainly used. There is a growing interest in the use of seawater for leaching purposes, especially in regions with less access to fresh water. Hence, this study investigated the bioleaching potentials of four halophilic (marine), moderately-halophilic sulfur-oxidizing bacteria: Thiomicrospira cyclica, Thiohalobacter thiocyanaticus, Thioclava electrotropha and Thioclava pacifica in shake flasks at room temperature. Results revealed T. electrotropha and T. pacifica as the most promising for bioleaching. In comparison to an acidophilic consortium which leached 95% Co, 0% Pb, 85% Zn, 80% As, 100% Cd, and 55% Mn from a sulfidic mine waste rock sample from the Neves Corvo mine Portugal, a pure cultures of T. electrotropha and T. pacifica solubilized 30-40% Co, and 10-20% Cu, Zn, K, Cd, Mn and Ag at a higher pH (pH ≥ 4) and high chloride concentration. Though still requiring process optimization, this new biotechnology seems promising and offers remarkable benefits such as preventing extreme acidification of the environment while also being applicable in seawater.

Keywords: bioleaching; marine sulfur-oxidising bacteria; mine waste rock; seawater

  • Lecture (Conference)
    The 24th International Biohydrometallurgy Symposium, 20.-23.11.2022, Perth, Australia