How Microorganisms Extract Value From Mining Waste

by | Aug 1, 2023 | Waste Management

Home » Conservation » Waste Management » How Microorganisms Extract Value From Mining Waste

In light of climate change and a growing need for critical minerals, new methods for extracting greenhouse gases and transforming ores are necessary. By using microbial technologies to retrieve metals from mine waste and sequester carbon dioxide inside mine tailings, the mining sector can be altered for a sustainable future.

What Is Mining Waste?

Mining waste is generated during the extraction and processing of mineral resources. It includes topsoil overburden (removed to allow access to mineral resources) and waste rock and tailings (left over after the precious mineral has been extracted). Some of this garbage is inert and will cause no harm to the environment. Mining waste may contain substantial amounts of hazardous compounds, such as heavy metals. Metal and metal compound extraction and processing can result in acid or alkaline drainage.

Furthermore, tailings handling is dangerous, as it frequently contains residual processing chemicals and increased metal levels. Tailings are commonly deposited in piles or big ponds encircled by a dam. These can fail, with serious consequences and long-term ramifications on people’s health, economic growth, and the environment. Mine waste management will contribute to the long-term viability of disposal sites. It will lessen the water and soil contamination caused by acid or alkaline drainage and heavy metal leaching.

How Are Microorganisms Being Used To Extract More Value From Mining Waste?

Microorganisms and mining waste

Microbial remediation technology has received a lot of interest recently in the realm of environmental research. Microorganisms are essential in managing toxic wastes without harming the environment by biotransforming these pollutants from toxic to harmless forms. Bacterial cells can catalyze metal dissolution from minerals, and bacteria-mediated leaching processes are faster than chemical procedures at average temperatures and atmospheric pressure. Microorganisms are used in biomining to recover valuable minerals and metals from mining and industrial waste. This method also cleans up environmental sites contaminated with heavy metals and other developing toxins.

Currently, bio-mining technology is used to extract precious minerals from mining and industrial wastes, such as manganese, lithium, copper, lead, and gold. Diverse industrial-scale bioleaching methods are currently used to extract metals from waste mining residues and in-situ bioleaching. Microbiological contributions to metal solubilization have been studied during the last few decades, and their utility has been widely recognized.

Revolutionizing Mining Waste Extraction And Carbon Storage

New methods for extracting carbon dioxide and processing ores are necessary in light of climate change and the increasing demand for critical minerals. By using microbial technologies to recover metals from mine tailings and store carbon dioxide inside mine tailings, the mining sector can be altered for a greener and more sustainable future. Researchers have created a novel mining process that employs microbes to recover metals from mining waste and store carbon. Dry-stack tailing has the potential to change the mining sector and pave the path for a greener, more sustainable future.

Tailings are fine-grained waste products that are heaped and kept after extracting the target ore mineral. Over time, mining techniques have developed and become more efficient. However, new ore extraction and processing technologies are required due to climate change and rising demand for critical minerals. Old tailings have higher quantities of essential minerals, which can be obtained using microbes in a bioleaching method. The microorganisms aid in the disintegration of the ore, liberating all precious metals that hadn’t been wholly collected in a safe and considerably faster biogeochemical weathering process than natural biogeochemical weathering processes.

How Microorganisms Transform Tailings Into Resources?

In addition to improving resource recovery, the microorganisms capture carbon dioxide from the environment and store it in mine tailings as new minerals. This procedure helps stabilize the tailings and balance some of the pollutants created while the mine runs. Microbial mineral carbonation is a procedure whereby bacteria collect carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it as new minerals in mine tailings. This procedure helps stabilize the tailings and balance some of the pollutants created while the mine runs.

Microbial mineral carbonation might offset more than 30% of a mine’s annual greenhouse gas emissions if applied to the entire mine. It also adds value to previous mining tailings, which would otherwise be deemed industrial trash. This technology could be an essential catalyst in the battle against climate change, and the mining sector has a unique opportunity to play a significant role in green energy’s future.

Microbes Transforming Mining For A Sustainable Future

By ensuring that the operation is carried out under regulated conditions, the microbial biomining method primarily employs native microbial populations that are common in the environment. As a result, microorganisms can extract and recycle precious minerals from low-grade ores, mining scraps, and solid waste from factory residues and effluents.

Most present-day biomining operations seek precious metals in sulfidic minerals, such as copper, uranium, nickel, and gold. Microorganisms are particularly adept at oxidizing sulfidic minerals, converting metals such as iron and copper into more easily soluble forms. This microbial process does not directly dissolve other metals, such as gold. The minerals surrounding these metals are dissolved and removed by microbial processes, making them more accessible to standard mining techniques. The biomining process is dubbed bioleaching, when the metal of interest is directly dissolved, and oxidation when the metal of interest is rendered more accessible or enriched in the material left behind. Both processes require microbial reactions that can occur anywhere microorganisms, rocks, and essential nutrients, like oxygen, coexist.

How Common Is The Process Of Biomining?

Biomining is now a minor component of the mining sector. It is most commonly utilized when the percentage of desired metal in a rock is low or to remove leftover metals from waste rock following conventional mining. Many of the most copper-rich ores have previously been mined in Chile, which produces one-third of the world’s copper today. As a result, biomining is increasingly being utilized to mine deposits with low copper percentages, and bioleaching is employed to extract 1015% of copper globally. Biomining is also essential in the gold sector, as bio-oxidation accounts for around 5% of global gold production. As metal-rich ores become exhausted worldwide and microbial research and engineering progress, biomining may become more widespread in the future.

What Are The Environmental Consequences Of biomining?

The majority of recent biomining activities make use of naturally occurring microbial communities. Because these organisms are already abundant in the ecosystem, the dangers associated with releasing the bacteria into the local environment are thought to be minimal. The main environmental threats are associated with leakage and treatment of the microorganisms’ acidic, metal-rich solution, similar to acid mine drainage from some abandoned mines. This risk can be reduced by ensuring that biomining occurs under controlled conditions with suitable sealing and waste management measures.


Mine waste harms the environment with dangerous metals and metalloids, causing difficulties for humans and wildlife. Microorganisms colonize and dwell in mine waste, and they can impact metal mobility in the environment via metabolic activity, the biogeochemical cycle, and detoxifying mechanisms. The action of microorganisms can attenuate the effects of metal mining waste, reducing pollution’s influence on global health. Processes that are less expensive and more ecologically friendly are in high demand.

Also ReadMicrobial Bioremediation


  • Dr. Tanushree Kain

    Tanushree is a passionate Environmentalist with a Doctorate in Environmental Sciences. She is also a Gold medalist in Master of Science (M.Sc), Environmental Sciences. She has 6 years of experience as a guest faculty in Environmental Sciences. With her combination of technical knowledge and research expertise, she can create clear, accurate, and engaging content that helps users get the maximum information regarding environmental topics.

    View all posts


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Explore Categories