Mining waste a literal goldmine

AUSTRALIAN chemicals technology developer Epichem is investigating ways to extract critical minerals, coal, and fuel sources from mine site waste.
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Technology converts solid organic materials into low-molecular-weight, water-soluble chemicals

Paul Hunt

Epichem signed a partnership agreement with US company Thermaquatica to develop a chemicals-based extraction solution that they hope will transform the way miners manage their waste.

According to the venture, all waste products from mine sites including plastics, tyres, wood stock, and coal waste, could all be refined into other products.

The technology, Oxidative Hydrothermal Dissolution, converts solid organic materials into low-molecular-weight, water-soluble chemicals.

It uses dissolved oxygen in water at a high temperature and pressure.

 

Plastics from mine sites could be converted to cellulosic ethanol or biodiesel. Tyres from trucks and vehicles could also be recycled into liquid fuels.

Other materials, such as coal waste, could also be converted into other products, with the venture touting the burgeoning fertiliser industry as an example.

This would all then be on-sold, creating revenue streams for miners and offsetting waste management costs.

"[Mining] creates massive amounts of waste, which is a by-product of its processes," Epichem chief Colin La Galia said.

"With this technology, we could remove the waste, convert it into a valuable end product and create a revenue-generating opportunity."

The applications for diesel and biofuel are most interesting.

According to Epichem, the bioplastics market is expected to grow into a $28 billion market over the next five years, while the bioethanol market will double to $65 billion.