University of Bath experts at heart of project to clean up dirty mines

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Written by:   | Posted 29-December-2014 10:20

University of Bath experts at heart of project to clean up dirty mines

Experts from Bath are at the heart of a project which could revolutionise the way pollution from old mines is cleaned up across the world.

They are using algae to suck up precious heavy metals from an old tin mine – while producing biofuels at the same time.

The ground-breaking research project launched by a regional alliance of scientists involving the University of Bath aims to clean up water from the mine in Cornwall.

The GW4 Alliance brings together the universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter.

Researchers from the universities are working with the Coal Authority quango and environmental firm Veolia to grow algae in untreated mine water samples from Wheal Jane tin mine.

The research will explore whether algae is effective in removing materials such as arsenic and cadmium from the mine water.
Researchers will then look to convert the algae into a solid form from which precious heavy metals can be extracted and recycled for use in the electronics industry.

Any remaining solid waste will then be used to make biofuels.

The mine near Truro closed in 1992, and officials from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are keen to protect the nearby River Fal from pollution.

Dr Chris Chuck of the University of Bath’s Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies, said: “It’s a win-win solution to a significant environmental problem. We’re putting contaminated water in and taking out valuable metals, clean water and producing fuel.

“This technology could be applied to any type of mine or could even be used to clean up industrial effluent in the future.”

Dr Mike Allen, microbial biochemist at Plymouth Marine Laboratories, said: “Acidic waste run-off from mines is not a regional issue restricted to Cornwall, it’s a global problem. It’s a particular problem in the developing world where costly clean-up and remediation activities are ignored because of their high cost and low return.

“By making the clean-up process pay for itself, we can improve both the health and the environment of millions of people around the world.”

photo caption: The derelict Wheal Jane tin mine, where the University of Bath is involved in a project to clean up heavy metal pollution.


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