RESOURCE RECOVERY FROM WASTE WATERS: USING BIOMINERALISATION FOR THE SELECTIVE RECOVERY OF METALS FROM ACID ROCK DRAINAGE AND MINE PROCESS WATERS
Acidic, metal-rich waters generated at working metal mines and abandoned mine sites are generally considered to be major pollutants of the environment. However, the metals they contain often have significant value of their own, or as sources of useful mineral products. We have developed novel bioreactor systems that facilitate the selective recovery of various transition metals (e.g. copper, zinc and iron) as defined minerals that can be recovered and recycled. The bioreactors use novel species of acidophilic bacteria. Ferrous iron is oxidised by Ferrovum myxofaciens, a specialist bacterium that forms large amounts of exopolymers and grows as filamentous streamers in flowing mine waters, and the ferric iron generated is precipitated as the mineral schwertmannite, a small proportion of which is used to remove any arsenic present in mine water. Copper and zinc are precipitated as sulphides using H2S generated by consortia of acidophilic and acid-tolerant sulphate-reducing bacteria in a continuous flow, on-line low pH bioreactor. Transition metal sulfides can be segregated by precipitating them, either on-line or off-line, at different pH values. The modular units that have been developed can be configured to treat mine waters of different chemistries. A hypothetical acidic (pH 2.5) mine water stream containing 500 mg/L iron, 100 mg/L of copper and zinc, 50 mg/L of aluminum and manganese, 2 mg/L of arsenate, and discharged at a rate of 10 L/s, is used as an example of the potential application of the mineral-generating bioreactors. The environmental benefits and economic implications of considering mine waters as resources rather than wastes are discussed.
metals; Iron; Water; Waters; ARD; Mines; Mine; Mines; Bacteria;