INL has a long-standing multi-disciplinary program in biological mining. Biomining research has included biological approaches to the extraction and recovery of metal from ores, controlling acid drainage, and biological processing of phosphate minerals. Initial work focused on extraction and recovery of cobalt and other metals from low-grade ores but has expanded to include sulfidic ores of gold, copper, zinc and nickel, and heap, stirred tank and thermophilic bioleaching.
Control of sulfide mineral leaching requires understanding the microbial ecology of these environments. Microbial techniques used to speciate and enumerate microbes include an overlay plating method to isolate bacteria typically difficult to grow, and 16S rRNA techniques, including real-time PCR, and fluorescent in situ hybridization. These methods are applied to mesophilic, moderately thermophilic, and extremely thermophilic organisms. These techniques are used to monitor microbial populations and population shifts due to environmental changes such as pH, temperature and dissolved oxygen shifts. Such fluctuations in stirred tank and column processes, and in heap and dump leaching systems, can thereby be understood and controlled.
INL researchers developed biological strategies for leaching of arsenopyrite ores (including the use of genetic engineering to improve arsenic resistance in acidophilic bacteria), techniques for acid rock drainage mitigation, approaches to cyanide degradation in gold mining operations, bioprocesses for selenium and chromium reduction, and options for metal sorption from process or waste waters. INL organized and hosted the International Biohydrometallurgy Symposium at Jackson Hole, Wyo, in 1989 and 1993.
Bioprocessing of phosphate containing minerals to recover phosphate has been studied. Microbes, such as Burkholderia cepacia, that promote separation of phosphate from gangue minerals, have been isolated, characterized and applied.
- Aston, J.E., W.A. Apel, B.D. Lee, and B.M. Peyton. 2010. Effects of Cell Condition, pH, and Temperture on Lead, Zinc, and Copper Sorption to Acidithiobacillus caldus BC13. Journal of Hazardous Material. 184:34-41
- Aston, J.E., W.A. Apel, B.D. Lee, and B.M. Peyton. Effects of Ferrous Sulfate, Inoculum History and Anionic Form of Lead, Zinc, and Copper Toxicity to Acidithiobacillus caldus BC13. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.
- VanEngelen, M.R., E.K. Field, R. Gerlach, B.D. Lee, W.A. Apel, and B.M. Peyton. 2010. UO22+ speciation Determines Uranium Toxicity and Bioaccumulation in an Environmental Pseudomonas sp. isolate. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. 29(4):763-769
- D.T. Newby, J.C. Snyder, M.A. Young, and F.F. Roberto, Analysis of thermoacidophilic microbial communities by real-time PCR,” American Society for Microbiology 104th General Meeting, New Orleans, LA, May 23-27, 2004, Poster N-264.
- D.B. Johnson, N. Okibe, and F.F. Roberto, “Physiological and phylogenetic characteristics of moderately thermophilic and acidophilic bacteria isolated from Yellowstone National Park,” Arch. Microbiol. 180, 2003, pp. 60-68.
- A.R. Marchbank, E. Kirby, and F.F. Roberto, “The application of biologically mediated leaching methods – A comprehensive review,” CIM Bulletin 96, 2003, pp. 143-147.
- F.F. Roberto, “Bioleaching of Minerals,” The Encyclopedia of Environmental Microbiology, G. Bitton and R.S. Burlage (eds.), J. Wiley and Sons, Inc., New York, 2002, pp. 641-650.
- D.B. Johnson, D.A. Body, T.A., M. Bridge, D.F. Bruhn, and F.F. Roberto, “Biodiversity of Acidophilic Moderate Thermophiles Isolated From Two Sites in Yellowstone National Park and Their Roles in the Dissimilatory Oxido-Reduction of Iron,” Thermophiles: Biodiversity, Ecology and Evolution, A.L. Reysenback, M. Voytek, R. Mancinelli, (eds.), Plenum Publishing Co., New York, 2001, pp. 23–39.
- R.M. Lehman, F.F. Roberto, D. Early, D.F. Bruhn, S.E. Brink, S.P. O’Connell, M.E. Delwiche, F.S. Colwell, “Attached and Unattached Bacterial Communities in Closely-Paired Groundwater and Corehole Samples from an Acidic, Crystalline Rock Aquifer,” Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 67, 2001, pp. 2095–2106.
- D.F. Bruhn, D.N. Thompson, and K.S. Noah, “Microbial Ecology Assessment of a Mixed Copper Oxide/Sulfide Dump Heap Leach Operation.” Biohydrometallurgy and the Environment Toward the Mining of the 21st Century; Part A, R. Amils and A. Ballester, (Eds.), International Biohydrometallurgy Symposium, El Escorial, Spain, 1999, pp. 799–808.
- D.B. Johnson and F.F. Roberto, “Heterotrophic Acidophiles and Their Roles in the Bioleaching of Sulfide Minerals,” Chapter 13, Biomining: Theory, Microbes and Industrial Processes, D.E. Rawlings, (Ed.), R.G. Landes Co., 1997, pp. 259-279.
- D.F. Bruhn, J. Li, F.F. Roberto, S. Silver and B.P. Rosen, “Arsenic Resistance Operon of IncN Plasmid R46,” FEMS Microbiol. Lett., 139, 1996, pp. 149–153.
- D.B. Johnson, P. Bacelar-Nicolau, D. Bruhn and F.F. Roberto, “Iron Oxidizing Heterotrophic Acidophiles: Ubiquitous Novel Bacteria in Leaching Environments,” Biohydrometallurgical Processing, T. Vargas, C.A. Jerez, J.V. Wiertz, and H. Toledo, (Eds.), University of Chile, 1995, pp. 47–56.
- R.D. Rogers and J.H. Wolfram, “Microbial Solubilization of Phosphate,” U.S. Patent 5,256,544, Issued October 26, 1993.