BioMinE is an integrated project under the sixth framework programme of research supported by the European Commission, which started in November 2004 and will last until October 2008 (Ref. NMP2-CT-2005-500329). It is dedicated to the evaluation of biohydrometallurgy to improve the exploitation of the European non-ferrous metal resources in a sustainable way. At the end of 2007, the Consortium of BioMinE comprised 37 partners from industry (13 including 6 Small or Medium Enterprises), research organisations (8), universities (15), and government (1). The participants are from 13 EU member states and from Serbia and South Africa (INCO Countries). For more details see http://biomine.brgm.fr.
The three main kinds of resources considered for bioleaching studies are:
- Copper polymetallics (concentrates and tailings),
- Zinc polymetallics (zinc and zinc polymetallic concentrates)
- Secondary wastes (tailings, rock and metallurgical wastes, etc.)
For each of these resources, amenability studies of application of bioleaching technologies by various approaches have been undertaken or still ongoing. Further processing assessment will be conducted up to the demonstration scale. Technological improvements have been made to apply bioleaching in the context of the European resources in terms of complexity and sustainability requirements. The relevant fundamental studies covering bio-prospecting, molecular ecology, biochemistry, and genetics areas aimed at improving the understanding and the control of the selected technologies have given original results.
Much progress has also been obtained in the use of the microbial sulfate-reducing process to polish effluents and to recover metals from leachates containing low concentrations of metals. The finding of micro-organisms thriving at low and high temperature, respectively 8 and 65 °C, leads to an extension of the application range of the process. It has been also observed that this process could be pushed down to pH 4.5 and 4 creating opportunities of selective metal recovery as metal sulphides. It has also been demonstrated that sulphate can be removed at high concentrations, as well as arsenic or selenium. The next step in this work is pilot testing. This will allow to determine scale-up criteria and to assess the residual metal concentration under actual conditions.
The pilot-scale demonstration operations, as well as the techno-economic and comparative sustainability assessments will be achieved during 2008, the last year of the project.
The prototypes of the learning objects for training about biohydrometallurgy accessible by internet have been elaborated. A public output of this work is accessible at http://wiki.biomine.skelleftea.se/wiki. The basic knowledge thus delivered is aimed at disseminating the understanding of the origins and use of biohydrometallurgy.
Contacts with mining operators in Europe have been taken and collaboration schemes have been established in various ways according to the respective contexts. When a high potential of technical involvement could be foreseen, a direct participation of the mining operators in the project was favoured, this led to integrate KGHM (Pol), Boliden (Sw) and Copper Institute of Bor (Serbia) into the consortium of partners.
When no direct technical commitment was conceivable at the first stage, collaboration was established with companies with the most urgent requirement to have access to the relevant resource.