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Earth-Science Reviews
Volume 216, 2021, 103563

From exploration to remediation: A microbial perspective for innovation in mining

Alan Levetta, Sarah A.Gleesona,b, Jens Kallmeyera

GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Telegrafenberg, 14473 Potsdam, Germany.


As society transitions to low-carbon, renewable energy resources, the demand for metals and minerals is set to increase. Massive quantities of base metals and mineral materials (for example, silica and concrete) along with smaller quantities of precious metals will be required for the construction of wind turbines, solar panels and battery storage facilities to meet the demands of the ‘Electric Planet’ of the future. Harnessing microbe-mineral-metal interactions may offer many opportunities to improve some mining practises and support the long-term sustainability of mining. As easily exploitable, high-grade deposits are becoming increasingly depleted there is a need for new technologies to improve exploration and mining strategies. Microorganisms are ubiquitous and diverse, surviving in almost all environments in the Earth's crust and recent advances in molecular techniques have enabled scientists to study these communities is extraordinary detail. Microorganisms also interact directly with their environment; both responding to and changing the environment around them. These responses and their influences on the surrounding environment are preserved within their genome (a complete set of the DNA of the microorganism). Here, we discuss using state-of-the-art sequencing techniques to identify key microbial genes that have been demonstrated to correlate with metal concentrations. These genetic-based bioindicators may provide additional tools to guide and improve the success rate of mineral exploration programmes. Advances in molecular techniques will also improve existing biohydrometallurgical techniques and expand the commodity range for which biohydrometallurgy are currently economically viable. Finally, microorganisms may be used in a number of strategies for mine remediation; specifically, we review in detail microbially accelerated carbon capture and storage strategies and mine waste stabilisation.

Keywords: Bioindicators, Bioleaching, Mining, Microbe-mineral interactions, Bioremediation, Biohydrometallurgy.

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