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Post  Post subject: Bioleaching and Phytomining - Waste of Time?  |  Posted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 10:48 am
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Joined: Fri Aug 12, 2011 4:53 pm
Posts: 380
Location: Farnham Royal, Bucks

I am somewhat cynical about the techniques called bioleaching and phytomining in order to recover low levels of less reactive metals from mines and areas with low levels of metals in order to recycle metals. My issue would be that the low levels of metal recovered would be far too low to be useable in an industrial set up, and what could you do with a few hundred kg of metal from a given site, bearing in mind the time taken for plants to take up metal minerals.

I have to teach this at GCSE level:

The future of copper

We are running out of copper-rich ores. Research is being carried out to find new ways to extract copper from the remaining low-grade ores, without harming the environment too much. This research is very important, as traditional mining involves huge open-cast mines that produce a lot of waste rock.

Phytomining, bioleaching and scrap iron
Some plants absorb copper compounds through their roots. They concentrate these compounds as a result of this. The plants can be burned to produce an ash that contains the copper compounds. This method of extraction is called phytomining.
Some bacteria absorb copper compounds. They then produce solutions called leachates, which contain copper compounds. This method of extraction is called bioleaching.
Copper can also be extracted from solutions of copper salts using scrap iron. Iron is more reactive than copper, so it can displace copper from copper salts. For example:
iron + copper sulfate → iron sulfate + copper


Any thoughts?

Barbarus hic ego sum quia non intelligor illis (I am a barbarian to those who do not know me) Ovid

Post  Post subject: Re: Bioleaching and Phytomining - Waste of Time?  |  Posted: Mon Apr 21, 2014 1:57 pm
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Joined: Sun Aug 07, 2011 5:55 am
Posts: 978
Location: Denver, Colorado

The viability of phytomining depends on the price of copper, which inevitably will increase if conventional sources dry up. The Kennecott copper mine in Utah is a gigantic bowl dug out of the ground. I think it's a couple of miles across by now. If and when the ore extracted from there becomes too low quality to justify continuing conventional mining, I can visualize the whole bowl being planted with copper-concentrating plants. The harvested plants could be burned in a power plant to produce electricity needed for processing the ash, and the copper produced would be sulfur-free, eliminating some additional processes needed by conventional production.

Obviously this is pure speculation, but I wouldn't dismiss the idea of phytomining out of hand.

Meanwhile I'll think of the copper gutters and drainpipes on my house as a retirement investment, as long as no one steals them.

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