1. What consequences will a shortage in metals or minerals have for the EU?
The European manufacturing industry will lack mineral raw materials. In consequence, the sector will not be able to produce goods to the extent necessary which will lead to serious negative impacts on the European economy and probably a dramatic increase in unemployment.
2. What kinds of products would be affected?
Mineral raw materials are essential for the sustainability of modern societies. The access to mineral raw materials is crucial for the sound functioning of the EU's economy. Nearly all sectors, such as construction, farming and forestry, chemicals, automotive, aerospace, machinery and equipment, which provide a total added value of 1.324 billion € and employment for some 30 million people, depend on access to and provision of mineral raw materials. Consequently, almost all products of our daily life are affected from a shortage in mineral raw materials supply.
3. What are the main technical advantages of BIOMOre?
The BIOMOre technology, if successful, will be a mining technology with minimal footprint allowing the extraction of metals from deposits at depths greater than 1 km at costs that are expected to be lower than those in conventional mining. Because of its low environmental impact it will be suitable even for densely populated areas. The technology might even be the only applicable technology for certain types of deposits.
4. What are the main economic advantages of BIOMOre?
- Has the potential to reduce the EU’s dependency on the import of rare technology metals and other commodities
- Reduces costs of mining activities (surface and underground infrastructure, energy supply, tailings remediation)
- Improves mine safety by operating from the surface, thereby eliminating the exposure of personnel to underground conditions and hazards
- Generates or maintains employment (mining industry, suppliers, machine engineering, IT, green technologies)
5. What are the main ecological advantages of BIOMOre?
Beside an extensive evaluation of the total impact on sustainability from the beginning on, the visible advantages of this new mining concept are:
- Limitation of visual pollution from tall headframes or facilities
- Prevention of tailings by leaving the waste rock underground
- Reduction of heavy truck transport on mine sites, thereby less visual and noise pollution and no associated fuel consumption, even less dust generation
- Minimization of energy consumption as a whole
6. Is BIOMOre using the best available technology as a basis for research activities?
The BIOMOre concept is new and innovative, although many of its individual parts are already known. Using a sustainable bacterial bioleaching lixiviant is an already established and generally accepted procedure for low-grade copper deposits. Dissemination, exploitation and communication activities are essential parts of the project to ensure sustainability of results, improve quality, enhance impact and transfer results in order to influence and to change or renew current practices in the raw material sector. With its members and contributors the BIOMOre project represents the state-of-the-art of scientific and technological competence and innovative power meeting the EU’s strict environmental and safety Standards.
7. What is planned specifically to prevent risks for the environment?
The BIOMOre concept is expected to have lower environmental impacts than conventional mining as it:
avoids the creation of waste heaps and tailings and therefore the challenges of their safe, long-term management, including impacts on surface waters
minimizes infrastructure on the surface
leads to low creation of dust
has a lower energy consumption and less greenhouse gas emissions
Furthermore, the bacteria used are innocuous.
Concrete measures will also be taken to prevent or minimize remaining risks. The test sites will be selected on the basis of their geological suitability and extensive mechanical and geomechanical data will be collected to optimize the design through computer simulations. The operation of the test in-situ bioleaching facilities will be supported by a state-of-the-art risk assessment using extensive site-specific information, and will require a permit according to the Polish mining code. The test site will be monitored carefully during operation and closure and the microbial consortium will be denatured prior to closure.
8. Are the bacteria used in the process inoffensive?
The bacteria which are intended to be used in the leaching process are naturally occurring bacteria. Their activity will be stimulated by the supply of nutrients. Because of this, the development of the population can be controlled completely by controlling the nutrients supply. The bacteria themselves are completely innocuous and carry no health risk. There has not been a single case of human health being negatively impacted by biomining bacteria in the 50 years in which this technology has been in operation.
9. Is the deep in-situ bioleaching (DISB) technology similar to fracking for oil and gas?
Bioleaching is a well-established technology in many countries, and it is used mostly to extract and recover base and precious metals from ores and mineral wastes. The BIOMOre project intends to develop bioleaching technologies to extract metals from ore bodies buried deep (1 - 2 km) underground which will avoid the need to haul rocks to the land surface and to deposit waste materials (about 99% of the material mined) on the land surface. It is therefore perceived to be a far more environmentally benign approach for metal mining.
DISB has two important aspects, the first one involves the use of naturally-occurring microorganisms to generate solutions that will dissolve the metal-containing minerals in the buried ore (this process will operate at the land surface), the second one is to get access to the ore and make it physically amenable to bioleaching. The latter will involve drilling down through the overburden and increasing the permeability of the ore (a process referred to as “channelling”). This is necessary to maximize the throughput of the mineral-dissolving liquors and hence the efficiency of metal extraction.
Channelling has much in common with the fracturing of buried shales, as carried out in “fracking” operations, and similar approaches (e.g. hydraulic fracturing) could be used. It is however important to recognize that: (i) no flammable gases will be generated in DISB, which is an aspect of shale fracking that has received much adverse publicity; (ii) DISB will be operated well below the water table and will therefore not cause any groundwater pollution; (iii) the bioleaching liquids used are similar to those that can be found in many natural situations (e.g. the Rio Tinto in Spain) as well as at mine sites throughout the world.
Technologies are either already existent or being developed for BIOMOre to remove these liquids and eradicate the bacteria within them, once DISB has been completed. The Weißwasser area is considered a site that contains a representative quantity of deep-buried copper ore (German: Kupferschiefer) which has been proven to be suitable for mining using DISB technology.