A few key microbes are on the verge of becoming key players in B.C.’s mining industry.

Engineering professor Sue Baldwin has spent much of the past 15 years farming various combinations of anaerobic bacteria that have the ability to consume or remove heavy metals from mine tailings.

Tailings are ground up rock and chemical pollutants left over from the extraction of metals from ore.

Baldwin has her toes in the water of several important cleanup projects, including the Teck Resources smelter near Trail, the Imperial Metals Mount Polley Mine, and analysis of the selenium-contaminated run-off from coal mine waste in the Elk Valley.

Imperial Metals has been operating a 450-litre-a-minute anaerobic biological reactor at Mount Polley since 2009, according to project engineer Luke Moger. The researchers are working to find the optimal environment and combination of microbes in which sulphate-reducing bacteria mitigate acid mine drainage and metal pollution by consuming sulfates in the tailings pond and water that has come in contact with waste rock. This creates sulphides that react with metals in the water to form harmless solids.

The project, now in its second three-year phase, is a partnership between Imperial Metals, Baldwin’s lab at the University of B.C., and Genome BC, which directs funding to research on the application of genomics in sectors such as health care, forestry and mining, including some of Baldwin’s work.

Source: The Vancouver Sun - see full article