BRAIN paves the way for low-impact copper production

An international research team involving scientists from BRAIN has succeeded in extracting nearly the entire copper content from local shale deposits harnessing micro-organisms in combination with a bio-leaching process
BRAIN paves the way for low-impact copper production BRAIN paves the way for low-impact copper production BRAIN paves the way for low-impact copper production BRAIN paves the way for low-impact copper production BRAIN paves the way for low-impact copper production

The BRAIN BioXtractor pilot container arrived at BRAIN’s headquarters in Germany on August 17, 2017

Staff reporter

PRESS RELEASE: For the Franco-German research project, co-managed by the French Geology and Mining Research Bureau (Bureau de recherches géologiques et minières, BRGM) and the German Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR), it was key to develop an energy and raw material efficient recovery process with a small ecological footprint to utilise this local primary resource.

In the early extraction phase, the bacteria employed in the bio-leaching process first converts insoluble ore minerals into water-soluble salts. Downstream, a bio-chemical precipitation process then helps recover up to 97% of the dissolved copper.

Within the research project, BRAIN brought its specific capabilities to bear which helped identify carbonate-dissolving, metal-resistant micro-organisms from its proprietary BioArchive. This ‘toolbox of nature' contains more than 53,000 micro-organisms. In addition, BRAIN also provided its distinct expertise in the realm of physiological and genetic micro-organism characterisation.

"This successful research project underscores the increasing significance of green mining and urban mining, both of which are areas in which we conduct intense research. We focus on the low-impact and efficient extraction and recovery of precious metals, such as gold, silver and other technology metals, from ores and waste streams. Source materials include e.g. electronic scrap, incineration bottom ashes and metallurgical slags," said Dr Guido Meurer, member of the management board and unit head producer strain development at BRAIN.

New processes which allow for the sustainable extraction and recovery of metals are an increasingly important field of research and development, especially for regions such as Germany, where raw materials are scarce. Experts also predict a strongly increasing demand in copper to meet global needs, e.g. to usher in the era of electric vehicles.

Dr Esther Gabor, program manager green & urban mining at BRAIN, said: "There is an increasing demand in precious metals, which play a key role in many high-tech applications. Based on biotechnological processes, BRAIN has developed various bio-based solutions for green and urban mining as they are essential for an efficient circular economy."

A recently finalised demonstration unit, the BRAIN BioXtractor, offers powerful and safe biological process solutions to extract and recover precious metals from side and waste streams as well as from primary resources. Currently the system is being made ready to get explored by enterprises interested in a test phase prior to joint further development and commercialisation or licensing the technology.