A salt-tolerant micro-organism could save the mining industry thousands of dollars a year and expand the use of biomining in Western Australia.
Researchers are searching for an organism to support biomining, which uses micro-organisms to extract metal from low-grade or difficult to process ores.
Curtin University of Technology researcher, Carla Zammit, says the micro-organism would have a ‘huge impact’ on the mining industry by saving costs and the environment.
“The current process for extracting ore can involve sending carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and use large amounts of energy,” she said.
“Biomining does not produce emissions associated with smelting, is low maintenance and metals can be economically extracted from waste ores.”
The process is inhibited by salt, and has limited use in Western Australia due to the salt content in the soil and ground water.
Researchers believe the microorganism would stimulate biomining in WA and deliver widespread benefits to the industry.
Zammit says low start-up and maintenance costs mean biomining also has potential for Third World countries to start their own mining operations.