High-technology business locations in both Germany and France are highly dependent on metal imports. Most high grade metal deposits in Europe have already been exhausted and those which remain have a relatively low metal content. In many cases they are also too hard to reprocess due to complex mineralisation conditions. An important ex-ample is the so-called “Kupferschiefer” (copper shale), whose prepara-tion is of major interest for the programme partners.
There is also a considerable amount of mining waste in Germany e.g in the “Mansfelder Land” and reprocessing this would appear to be profit-able from today’s perspective, especially as the material is stored in heaps and so is relatively easy to access. New ground must be broken if these economically important, but very complex, raw materials are to be processed in an economically and environmentally sustainable way.
Innovative and sustainable methods for the extraction of copper and other valuable metals from European primary and secondary raw ma-terial sources will be developed for practical application as part of the “EcoMetals” research programme The programme partners are fo-cused on reprocessing copper shale from Poland, as well as copper-rich waste heaps from Germany and the by-products of French mining activities.
BRAIN is actively supporting this programme through both its research and its unique and extensive microbiological strain collection (a BioAr-chive comprising more than 30,000 organisms) in order to fully develop the new concept of “bioleaching” for eventual application.
Biohydrometallurgical methods, such as the dissolution of metals from the rock matrix using microorganisms (bioleaching), as well as the se-lective extraction of dissolved metals through bioabsorption or bio-mineralisation, have been found to be the most promising methods for handling these complex raw materials.
Dr. Yvonne Tiffert, microbiologist and “EcoMetals” project leader at BRAIN explains: “The BRAIN strain collection contains an enormous variety of microorganisms with different metabolic activities. We are confident that this includes numerous suitable candidates that would be able to extract metals from complex minerals even under harsh conditions such as high salt levels, high proportions of organic or inor-ganic components and even extreme pH values.”
“The programme alliance includes leading German and French experts in both basic research and industrial application in the field of biohy-drometallurgy. Here, we have the ideal conditions for developing a practical, scalable process in a short time period that can then be used for the sustainable recovery of economically significant metal raw ma-terials,” adds Dr. Guido Meurer, Unit Head Strain Development and member of the executive committee at BRAIN.
Other programme partners in the international alliance besides BRAIN are Polish mining company KGHM, the German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany, Freiberg University of Mining and Tech-nology, Germany, the German companies G.E.O.S. mbH, UVR-FIA GmbH, Aurubis AG, as well as the French Bio Intelligence Service, GéoRessources/Nancy, LaTep/Pau (Laboratoire de Thermique, Ener-gétique et Procédés), Air Liquide, Milton Roy Mixing, as well as BRGM in Orléans.